Stem cells are unspecialized cells able to divide and produce copies of themselves and having the potential to differentiate, ie to produce other cell types in the body. Because of the latter ability, the scientists investigate their possible use in regenerative medicine. Embryonic stem cells (ESCs), especially, have huge therapeutic potential because they can give rise to every cell type in the body (pluripotency) as compared to stem cells from certain adult tissues that can only differentiate into a limited range of cell types. For this reason scientists stress the importance of embryonic stem cell research. However, this research raises sensitive ethical and religious arguments, which are balanced against possible great benefit of such research for the patients suffering from so far incurable diseases. Serious questions remain about safety.

In Saudi Arabia, for the last five years, the Stem Cell Therapy Program has been established at King Faisal Specialist hospital and research center with the launch of 10 projects. Embryonic stem cell therapy for genetics metabolic disorders is one of the most promising modalities for the therapy and prevention of mentally and physically handicapped in children.

Recent advances in the field of cloning and stem cell research has raised many complex questions. It is rare that a field of science causes debate and challenge not only among scientists, but also among ethicists, religious scholars, governments and politicians. There is no consensus on the morality of human cloning, even within specific religious traditions. In countries in which religion has a strong influence on political decision-making, the moral status of the human embryo is at the center of the debate. We will discuss our experience; how Islamic teachings make this very promising research and therapeutic technique, and modality of treatment permissible; and the Islamic perspectives about reproductive/therapeutic cloning.

In conclusion, it is still unclear which human stem cells— whether embryonic or adult — will be developed and for which conditions. Qualities of the ideal stem cell in a clinical setting are expected to be extensive and far reaching. The ability for stem cells to be expanded in culture without genetic and epigenetic abnormalities, their ability to form functional cell types in vitro and in vivo, and their immuno-compatibility with the patient need to be studied. Given this, the focus of research community should be on developing human research capacity in both ASCs and ESCs. Each type of research will take time to mature. The ethical debate will need to produce acceptable policy and regulatory compromises so that the regulatory burden can be reduced and investors’ risk aversion can be overcome. If these things happen, the major remaining barrier to realizing the medical benefits of stem-cell research might be the lack of skilled scientists in the field. Our experience in Saudi Arabia will be presented.


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  • Received: 05 March 2012
  • Accepted: 28 March 2012
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