"The AAN and ANA recognize there are differing ethical opinions on the status of embryos that cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of all through medical science alone," according to American Academy of Neurology president Sandra F. Olson, MD. "Nevertheless, as scientists and healers, we have a strong moral and ethical obligation to pursue research that may result in beneficial treatments for diseases that are among the most debilitating and costly in human society," said Olson.
"Our organizations therefore recommend that embryonic stem cell research and somatic cell nuclear transfer (i.e., therapeutic cloning) proceed under federal oversight, ensuring that the highest quality and most promising research is conducted with utmost regard for ethical standards," said Olson.
Neuroscientists agree that there is great potential, although no guarantees, for breakthroughs in therapies for diseases such as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury, and stroke, through embryonic stem cell research.
While adult stem cell research is believed to hold less promise, the AAN and ANA believe both embryonic and adult stem cell research should be pursued rigorously and under close scrutiny. The organizations further endorsed the standards for oversight developed by the National Institutes of Health in its 2000 report, "Guidelines for Research Involving Human Pluripotent Stem Cells." Those guidelines were altered in August 2001 by Presidential Order and limited the research to stem cell lines that had already been derived at that time. Many researchers believe that these lines are inadequate to advance promising research, including the search for potential treatments.
"The AAN and ANA respect the concerns of their members and the public regarding important ethical principles and values pertaining to research using human embryonic stem cells," said Olson. "With this position statement, we look forward to engaging in constructive dialogue on the issue and promoting new research that appropriately balances the ethical and moral considerations with the needs of patients."
The AAN approved the position statement at its third-quarter meeting held October 16-17 in New York.
Developing the position involved nearly a year of analysis and discussion among scientific and ethics experts, various committees, and leadership of the 18,000-member AAN and the 600-member ANA.
The AAN plans to host a science briefing on stem cell research for the media in early December.
The position statement and a supporting white paper on therapeutic cloning can be downloaded at www.aan.com.
The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 18,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury, and multiple sclerosis.
For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit www.aan.com.
The American Neurological Association is a professional society of academic neurologists and neuroscientists devoted to advancing the goals of academic neurology; to training and educating neurologists and other physicians in the neurologic sciences; and to expanding neurologists' understanding of diseases of the nervous system and their ability to treat them.
For more information about the American Neurological Association, visit www.aneuroa.org.