As patents are one of the key driving forces for commercial companies, scientists are concerned that the ban may force pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to invest their money in research elsewhere. This may have consequences for the development of new treatments and diagnostic tools.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said:
“We are currently funding a number of projects which use embryonic stem cells as a tool for research. Our scientists rely on the interest of commercial companies to take their discoveries forward and develop new treatments and diagnostic methods. Although we will have to wait before we can see the real impact of this ban on Alzheimer’s research, there is a concern that this commercial interest may be lost.
“As dementia research is so underfunded, any potential loss of research interest or investment could slow down the progress that is so desperately needed.”
Two Alzheimer’s Research UK-funded scientists also voiced their concerns over the impact of the ruling.
Dr Eric Hill at Aston University fears that his work may be directly affected by the ban. He said:
“Embryonic stem cells and the methods used in the lab to turn them into specific tissues are an invaluable resource for modelling a number of diseases, including Alzheimer’s. There are other ways of producing stem cells which do not use human embryos, such as taking normal adult cells and turning them back into stem cells- so-called ‘induced pluripotent stem cells’. We hope that these may provide an excellent alternative, but lots of work still needs to be done in this area.
“I think the ban may force people to do their work elsewhere, depriving the UK/EU of potential revenue and access to cutting edge research.”
Dr Rick Livesey at the University of Cambridge has been developing a technique involving embryonic stem cells, which could be used to allow large-scale screening of new drugs for Alzheimer’s. Dr Livesey now fears that commercial interest in his project will be lost, halting the progress of this vital work. He said:
“This ruling has created a huge level of confusion for stem cell scientists. The patent process can take years and now there is a new level of ambiguity in the system. We aren’t clear how long it will take for stem cell scientists to fully understand the impact the ban will have on their work. This could mean years of lost opportunities, interest and investment.”
Alzheimer’s Research UK