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Embryology

Volume 692: debated on Thursday 24 May 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What treatments for cerebral palsy, using stem cells from umbilical cords, are available in the United Kingdom; what assistance is being given to families with children suffering from this condition to travel to countries where the treatment is available; and when it is anticipated that comparable treatments will be available in the United Kingdom. [HL3854]

Such treatments are not currently available in the National Health Service. Before such treatments could be made available for human application, rigorous research and clinical trials would have to be completed.

Whether to give assistance to NHS patients seeking treatment from outside the European economic area is a decision for each NHS trust or primary care trust to make based on agreed criteria.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What research is being undertaken into the use of cells from umbilical cords as treatments for cerebral palsy; whether umbilical cords used for this purpose are retained or destroyed; and what percentage of the funds allocated for stem cell research has been reserved for the development of work with stem cells derived from umbilical cords. [HL3855]

The department is not aware of any studies or trials being carried out in the United Kingdom on the use of cells from umbilical cords as treatments for cerebral palsy. The UK Government are, however, committed to providing the best possible support for stem cell research and other experimental avenues of biomedical research that may, in the future, benefit patients suffering from a range of diseases.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath on 30 April (WA 182), what information they have on proposals to use embryonic stem cells in therapies; and what therapies are currently available (a) in the United Kingdom, and (b) overseas using adult stem cells. [HL3857]

Stem cell research shows great promise for understanding the basic development of different cell types. There have been a number of encouraging preclinical studies and clinical trials with adult and embryonic stem cells. This research is at a very early stage but it does show considerable promise for new therapies. This may include using them to replace damaged or diseased tissue. The studies may also provide the basis for studying diseases if specific cells lines are created. Stem cells may also provide better tests to test research drugs for signs of toxicity, reducing animal studies and improving the safety of drug trials.

The biological properties of stem cells have been exploited over the past several decades to develop a number of highly successful treatments using adult stem cells including bone marrow transplants, corneal transplants, related donor cord blood transplants and skin grafting.

It is difficult to assess stem cell therapies offered abroad as not all are associated with rigorous clinical trial data.