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Around three million people in the UK have kidney disease

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Statement on the stem cell research

We are committed to making life better for the millions of patients suffering from kidney disease. We recognise the importance of stem cell research in understanding the causes of the disease and developing therapies to treat it.

However, in accordance with the Code of Practice for the Use of Stem Cell Lines, we would only fund projects where adult or embryonic stem cell lines are used by bona fide researchers for justified and valuable purposes that reflect the requirements of the UK's regulations. Currently only adult stem cell research work is being funded.

Stem cells

Stem cells are particular cells in the human body that retain the ability to produce an identical copy of themselves when they divide but they can also differentiate into other cell types. They therefore have the ability to act as a repair system for the body, as they can replenish other cells or tissues.

Given these properties, stem cells are very important in medical research because of the clues they provide to allow understanding of the causes of serious diseases and potential treatments. Both adult and embryonic stem cells used in research are subject to strict regulations as to their use.

Use of stem cells in medical research

We support the view of the AMRC that particularly important ethical issues must be taken into account when considering funding research that involves embryonic stem cells. The use of human embryos for this purpose is regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

Research on human embryos is only allowed for certain purposes. Under the initial Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (1990), the HFEA could only grant licences if the use of human embryos was for research designed to increase knowledge about the causes of congenital diseases.

However, in new regulations introduced in 2001, the criteria were extended to include research that increased knowledge about serious diseases which could be applied to the development of treatments of these diseases (The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulations 2001).

We welcome this amended legislation allowing stem cell research into serious diseases including those affecting the kidney. We are opposed to human cloning. The Human Reproductive Cloning Act (2001) prohibits the use of cell nucleus replacement, or any other technique, to create a child.

Future of stem cell research

In the future, we hope that stem cell research will improve understanding of kidney disease and allow the development of treatments. Therapeutic cloning (as distinct from human cloning) is a process by which tissue samples from a human embryo are used to produce part, or a complete replica, of the original organ or tissue. These samples can be used to undertake complex genetic research, but also to grow new cells to help treat patients living with conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. They also have the potential to be developed into part of an organ, which could be used to replace damaged organs.

This is likely to be a major area of research endeavour which we welcome provided its moral and ethical dimensions are properly debated.

As a research charity, we are involved in the debate around the use of therapeutic cloning. Our primary objective of improving the lives of people with kidney disease, eg by reducing the shortage of kidneys for transplantation, is balanced by our duty to consider the ethical dimension of this approach.

The longer term potential of this technique could be to help take decisive steps towards ending the chronic shortage of kidneys for transplant, but full account of all the moral dimensions would need to be taken when deciding on our future policy towards funding research in this area.

Reviewed: January 2019

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