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Stem cells in India: Let’s stem the tide of chaos and confusion

Stem cell research, the world over, is perpetually caught in the intricate web of an apparent conflict. The promise of improved quality of human life has to constantly grapple with the intertwined question of safety, morality and ethics. It’s a chain of cascading effect actually. Empty sloganeering in the name of morality and ethics puts a freeze on healthy debate needed to study the pros and cons which in turn prevents the much needed legislation stipulating the codes of conduct and the dos and don’ts. The result is a chaos that, worse than slowing down the pace of advancement in this critical field, unknowingly helps unscrupulous providers work around the legal loopholes to promote their personal interests.

As a practicing geneticist, I firmly believe that the apparent conflict can be mitigated, if not weeded out, provided we take conscious steps to reduce the assumed polarity between scientific & medical fraternity and the community at large including patients and volunteers. Among other things, there’s a prime need for fueling healthy community debates on the ethical issues of stem cell research and application. At the same time, we need potent collaborations between institutes who possess proven clinical expertise in stem cell transplantations and healthcare providers who seek to appropriate these progressive methods. Needless to say, any collaboration in this critical scientific research will only enhance its methodical and financial foundation. It will also help acquire new data that could guarantee a greater level of confidence regarding the results achieved earlier. Needless to say, the insights from this endeavor will help furnish more reliable research information for patients and their kith and kin contemplating stem cell transplants that are otherwise forced to rely solely on distant testimonials and instant recommendations.

On the research and application side, it may pave the way for robust legal frameworks that will weed out the grey areas that mere “adherence to guidelines” tend to harbor. Most important, it may bring in much needed clarity for the demand side entities to be able to make a rational choice from among the various stem cell line purely based on its proven effectiveness in the context of the specific disease. This should jettison the needless rivalry between the proponents of different stem cell lines that needlessly mars the larger cause when stem cell clinics are reduced to stem cell shops.

Such a greenhouse of collaboration and co-creation may sound utopian at this stage but like anything else in life, the first few steps could gradually place us on a trajectory of progression. In the time to come, it could well pave the way for the worldwide recognition of stem cell transplantation as an effective clinical application for the treatment of a wide range of diseases and conditions, prophylaxis of certain diseases and improvement in quality and longevity of human life.

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