First Baden-Württemberg university approved for embryonic stem cell research
The biochemist Prof. Marcel Leist from Constance is the first Baden-Württemberg scientist to be authorised to undertake research using embryonic stem cells. Leist is investigating the effect of drugs and chemicals on human nerve cells.
Prof. Dr. Marcel Leist has been given the authorisation from the Robert Koch Institute to work with human embryonic stem cells. This makes him the first Baden-Württemberg scientist to receive such an authorisation. The 43-year-old scientist holds the Swiss Doerenkamp-Zbinden Foundation for Experimental Animal-Free Research and the Thurgau Foundation for Science and Research endowed chair for in vitro methods to replace animal experiments.
Authorisation associated with ethical responsibility
The process for obtaining an authorisation for stem cell research is lengthy. Under German legislation, research involving stem cells has to fulfil “high-ranking research objectives” and “the questions addressed by the research project must already have been, as far as is humanly possible, examined by in vitro models using animal cells or animal experiments”.
Prof. Dr. Marcel Leist comments on the authorisation: “This is an important step forward. It is also associated with a huge scientific and ethical responsibility. Research on animal stem cells has already provided us with valuable insights. Research with embryonic stem cells opens up completely new possibilities for testing medications and chemicals on human nerve cells in the test tube. We do not in any case consider the one as a substitute for the other, this would be ethically unthinkable. It is important to note that experiments testing the efficacy of drugs on animal cells only have a limited value for the situation in humans. Such results cannot be directly transferred to the human body. Something that is not dangerous for animals might lead to serious damage in humans, and vice versa.”
Stem cells are body cells that are not yet differentiated. They are not specialised for their later purpose in the organism, but have the capacity to differentiate into any kind of cell type. Moreover, they have the ability to go through numerous cycles of cell division while remaining in the undifferentiated state. Stem cells can only be cultured under highly complicated chemical conditions, which decide on the direction in which the cells develop. Plants, animals and humans have embryonic stem cells.