Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Sunday said it would soon set up a body to regulate the scientific community on the crucial health research of stem cell therapy.

“The National Apex committee for Stem cell Research and Therapy (NAC-SCRT) will monitor and review the stem cell research, technologies, techniques and clinical practices. All the required procedures and protocol are in place and it will be set up any time,” ICMR assistant director general Geeta Jotwani said.

Once it is formed, all institutions conducting stem cell research have to compulsorily register under it besides having their own institutional committee on stem cell research and therapy (IC-SCRT), she said.

NAC-SCRT will also maintain a registry for all clinical trials that are conducted in the country, along with the SC therapy clinics and patients and volunteers participating in it. Currently all trials are supposed to be self regulated under IC-SCRT.

Ms. Jotwani admitted that the formation of NAC had been delayed, which allowed several doctors and scientists to claim their findings as successful based on personal testimony, duping relatives of several terminally ill patients.

Stem cell research in India is still in its infancy, Ms. Jotwani said, and cautioned public about claims made by doctors based on personal testimony about stem cell therapy. “Such unproven therapies put patients at risk and may affect stem cell research also adversely,” she said at an ICMR meet.

The ICMR along with the Department of Biotechnology, which brought out guidelines in 2007, are also seeking public and other stakeholders opinion on the ICMR-DBT guidelines on stem research and therapy to improve it before it goes for the process of legislation, Ms. Jotwani said. All the important suggestions made at these public consultation meetings will be incorporated in the guidelines if required, she added.

A brainstorming session for the purpose was held in Mumbai and similar meetings will be held in Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi and possibly Bangalore, she said.

“Stem cells have excited researchers and raised hopes of the public because of its potential to relieve symptoms or treat many diseases. However, stem cell research raises many ethical, legal, scientific and policy issues that are of concern to the policy makers and public at large. As the research progresses and technologies advance, the regulatory system needs to be strengthened and a law has to be enacted,” she said.

“Bone marrow transplantation has been a standard mode of treatment for leukaemia for several decades. It will take many more years for stem cell-based therapies to move from bench to bedside,” Ms. Jotwani said.