Ninth annual stem cell meet inaugurated

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is giving the final touches to the much-awaited document on “Guidelines for Stem Cell Research”. This document will provide ethical and scientific directions to scientists and clinicians working in the field of stem cell research, B.R. Jagashetty, State Drugs Controller, said here on Thursday.

He was speaking at the inauguration of the ninth annual stem cell conference, “Stem 2013”, organised by the Society for Regenerative Medicine and Tissue Engineering (SRMTE).

Pointing out that stem cell research had come under the scanner of stringent regulatory oversight, in the backdrop of socio-religious and clinical concerns, Dr. Jagashetty said that the draft guidelines for stem cell research were issued in March 2012. “I will find out more about the final document during the Drugs Consultative Committee meeting scheduled on February 4 and 5 in Delhi,” he said.

While the stem cells market witnessed a high growth in 2011, more therapies are expected to be launched in the next five years. “With the liberalisation of stem cell research in the U.S., more researchers are working in different avenues which could pave the way for new therapies,” he said.

In India, researchers and doctors are working mainly in the clinical applications of stem cells in ophthalmology, cardiology, diabetes, and spinal cord repair. “There are more than 40 research institutes, hospitals and firms involved in stem cell research in the country.

“And the government has recognised stem cell research as a niche area and initiated the process of promoting it by allocating funds for infrastructure development and operational activities,” he said.

Dr. Jagashetty said that all institutions and investigators carrying out research in human stem cells must be registered with the National Apex Committee for Stem Cell Research and Therapy (NAC-SCRT) through the Institutional Committee for Stem Cell Research and Therapy (IC-SCRT).

“This is the first step towards streamlining stem cell research but the whole process is yet to begin,” he said.

In his address, Vascular Surgeon K.R. Suresh, who heads the Jain Institute of Vascular Sciences (JIVAS), said that stem cell therapy was tried on 65 young patients suffering from Buerger’s disease at JIVAS over a period of five years.

“The patients, addicted to smoking, had their blood vessels in the legs blocked and it was impossible to treat them with standard methods. Amputation was the only solution. But we treated them with stem cell therapy (cells derived from their own bone marrow) and the amputation rate was brought down to about 16 per cent. Otherwise, the amputation rate would have been 60 per cent,” Dr. Suresh said.

The second annual C.M. Habibullah memorial award was presented to Polani Seshagiri from the Indian Institute of Science. S.G.A. Rao, founder-trustee of SRMTE, spoke. Several papers on stem cell-based therapies for treatment of various diseases were presented at the conference.