The determination of mainland leaders to push the economy to higher-value industries in double-quick time invariably means having to be innovative, inventive and daring. They are being all of these with stem cell research, one of seven focus areas announced earlier this year as part of a drive to make the nation a world leader in scientific excellence by the end of the decade. Huge investment is being poured into facilities, and doctors are producing ever greater numbers of academic papers, bringing closer the possibility of therapies for diseases. As yet there are none, which raises all manner of questions as to how mainland hospitals and clinics can be offering treatments. Put simply, the answer is because they can. The lack of regulation means that doctors can make claims about stem cell treatments without evidence that they provide a safe and effective remedy. This gives hope for people unable to get into trial programmes in countries where science and medicine are carefully controlled. It is a highly dangerous situation and, if the industry remains unregulated, could undermine prospects of China becoming a scientific leader in this field. Medicine is built on facts and for now there are few when it comes to human embryonic stem cells. It is these cells that offer the greatest hope of cures for a host of diseases, disabilities and conditions, among them cancers, diabetes, heart and lung disease. Experimentation is still in the early stages, no matter where in the world it is being done. For reasons of economic growth, reputation and image, the central government is eager to leapfrog its American and European competitors and, with seemingly boundless resources, there is every reason to believe that this is possible. Development of a national programme, which will draw together the resources of four new research centres and 17 other institutions, was announced in February. This is a solid foundation for any such venture. To ensure scientists and doctors do their best possible work, though, the highest ethics and standards have to apply. The abuses currently taking place have to be eliminated. Using the one-child policy as an excuse, officials are reportedly forcing women to have abortions so that the stem cells from their fetuses can be harvested for research. Hospitals are offering treatments that do not have proven clinical worth. Staff are pandering to people desperate for cures. Doctors are ignoring oaths of practice that put patients' health and well-being first. There is no doubt that mainland scientists are making progress. As urgently as cures are sought, though, therapies cannot be prematurely made available. Adverse effects have to be thoroughly explored and the benefits carefully gauged so that there is meaningful treatment. Every facet of the process has to be properly regulated.