Researchers in pact on stem-cell work
Mainland teams agree to co-operate in building on key US-Japan breakthrough
Mainland researchers have agreed to work together to match and build on a breakthrough in stem-cell research by scientists in Japan and the US that uses skin rather than embryos to produce stem cells.
'[The overseas breakthrough] is a defining moment in human history,' Pei Duanqing , deputy director general of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health, said in Beijing yesterday.
Professor Pei is among more than 50 scientists from leading mainland stem-cell research institutes who met in Beijing for three days to develop strategies to capitalise on the opportunities and challenges of the new technology.
With a flake of skin, a simple genetic operation and a standard molecular lab, scientists can manufacture stem cells to build up any part of the body, ranging from hair, to limbs and even eyes, according to landmark papers released by teams in the United States and Japan on Monday.
The mainland assembly agreed that major laboratories in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou would share their resources to acquire the new technology and pass it on to other institutes.
'More barriers [to research co-operation] have fallen in the last two days than the rest of my life,' Professor Pei said, referring to the co-operative outcomes of the meeting, which ended yesterday.
'People are truly interested in working with others after decades in isolation.
'We will fully adopt the technology within a few months, and we will hold classes for researchers and technicians around the nation.
'Most of us feel that a new epoch in human history has arrived, and to be a winner of this era the key is we have to accumulate enough human resources ... The government may need time to realise the importance of this breakthrough, but action must be taken immediately.'
Stem-cell research has been booming on the mainland since the 1990s with rapidly increasing government funding and a relaxed attitude to the use of human embryos.
More than 30 independent research teams have been conducting experiments on stem cells, most of which are related to human embryos, according to a Science Times report.
Liu Yixun , director of the State Key Laboratory of Reproductive Biology, said the greatest value of the new technology was that the method was simple and cheap enough that most molecular laboratories on the mainland could afford it.
But it was not without safety problems, Professor Liu said. Both methods developed in the United States and Japan relied on the introduction of some alien genes, or viruses, which could cause unpredictable mutations if it was directly applied to people.
'Of course, every scientific discovery must endure the test of time. Nonetheless, the new approach will change the landscape of research in the world, including China,' Professor Liu said.
'Its application can only be limited by our imagination.'