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ICMR winds up national apex committee for stem cell research

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has decided to disband the national apex committee for stem cell research and therapy, transferring its responsibilities to ethics committees.

The dissolution of the apex committee, the National Apex Committee for Stem Cell Research and Therapy (NACSCRT), comes as its primary tasks have been completed over the past three years, marking significant progress in this field.

Stem cell research is a rapidly evolving field with the potential to revolutionise personalised medicine and healthcare in the coming years. However, as with any groundbreaking science, stem cell research also faces ethical and regulatory challenges.

According to present rules, all institutions researching human stem cells must constitute an institutional committee for stem cell research (IC-SCR) and register with the NAC-SCRT. The registration of IC-SCR was mandatory.

An order issued by the Department of Health Research, stated: “The national apex committee for stem cell research and therapy (NAC-SCRT) has been dissolved and the requirement of registration of IC- SCR with NAC-SCRT is no longer required.”

The apex panel served multiple roles, including the key one of acting as an advisory body on stem cell research policy. It was given charge for overseeing and monitoring the industry, along with reviewing specific, controversial or ethically more sensitive research proposals.

The order has laid new rules for the industry. It said that from now on “stem cell research involving human participants, their biological material and data will be reviewed by Ethics committees (EC) with a minimum of two stem cell experts in the ethics committee”.

Role of ethics committees
These ethics committees will continue to be registered mandatorily with the Department of Health Research (DHR), which falls under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

The order clarified that “the stem cell experts who attend the meeting may be free from conflict of interest. They need not be permanent members of the ethic committees but may be co-opted whenever there are stem cell-related proposals”.

These stem cell experts should be considered part of the quorum for the meeting and at least one expert should be external.

Also, these committees must be registered with the drug regulatory agency of India, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), if it is a clinical trial, the order said. “No regulatory role is anticipated to be carried out by DHR related to stem cell research,” the order clarified. “Other stem cell-related studies including basic/non-clinical/animal-related studies may be reviewed at the institutional level.” News18

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