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Stem Cells in Focus

The Importance of Professional Guidelines

Most of us are familiar with the Hippocratic Oath, at least the modern version, which is used by many medical schools in graduating their students. Its principles include teaching the next generation of doctors, treating the ill to the best of one’s ability and respecting a patient’s privacy. The oath is not legally binding, however, it remains a common expression of the ideal conduct for a physician.

The medical and healthcare fields are full of more focused professional and ethical guidelines covering all aspects of medical practice and patient care, many from national and international membership organizations and societies. Likewise, the legal, teaching, engineering, accounting, as well as many other professions, claim their own sets of guidelines.

Why are professional guidelines important? Because they provide a practical and ethical framework for decision making and because they instill a sense of responsibility and accountability.

The International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) is working with a task force of scientists, clinicians, ethicists and others to update its Guidelines for the Clinical Translation of Stem Cells.  Originally published in December 2008, the guidelines provide a roadmap for this burgeoning scientific field, and especially for scientists and clinicians working to bring their science to the clinic. They call for rigorous ethical and professional standards in the development of stem cell therapies, including evaluation and oversight of research by credible third parties, a thorough informed consent process and transparency in operations and reporting.

The revision is a vital task, as, each day, research shines new light on our understanding of human development and disease, technologies advance and new approaches enter clinical trials. While the research marches forward, the key principles of rigor, review and transparency that underpin the guidelines remain steady.

Many of these same concepts are distilled in the ISSCR’s informational website, A Closer Look at Stem Cells, which has pages exploring the process by which laboratory research becomes medicine and outlining the clinical trial process. This information may be of particular interest to those of you considering participation in a clinical trial or evaluating an experimental stem cell treatment. The Closer Look website can help you to understand the principles outlined in the ISSCR’s guidelines, learn more about stem cells and their role in the body, and make informed decisions about your health.

The ISSCR’s new DRAFT Guidelines for Stem Cell Research and Clinical Translation are available for review and public comment through September 10, 2015. We welcome your feedback on the guidelines and encourage your continued use of the Closer Look website. Our hope is that these resources help you to understand the clinical translation process, give you a framework by which to hold the field accountable and contribute to your support for and trust in the scientists who are working hard to advance important stem cell research from the lab to those who need it most.

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