In an early indication of lay opinions on research with induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which are stem cells made from skin or other tissues, a new study by bioethicists at Johns Hopkins University indicates that despite some ethical concerns, patients give the research "broad endorsement".
During focus group discussions patients were largely in favor of participating in iPSC research even if personal benefit was unlikely, though they raised concerns about consent, privacy and transparency when considering donating tissue for this research. The bioethicists report their findings in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
"Bioethicists, as well as stem cell researchers and policy-makers, have discussed the ethical issues of induced pluripotent stem cells at length, but we didn't have any systematic information about what patients think about these issues, and that is a huge part of the equation if the potential of this research is to be fully realized," says Jeremy Sugarman, the senior author of the report and the Harvey M. Meyerhoff Professor of Bioethics and Medicine at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.
Unlike human embryonic stem cells, iPSCs are derived without destroying a human embryo. Research with human iPSCs is valuable for developing new drugs, studying disease, and perhaps developing medical treatments. Sugarman explains that, while far off, scientists are hopeful that iPSCs could someday be used to develop organs for transplantation that the body's immune system will not attack, because they can be created from the person's own cells.
The study reveals the importance of prior informed consent for those asked to participate in it. According to the report, consent was highly important for patients in all five of the focus groups that were convened. Some patients even suggested that proper informed consent could compensate for other concerns they had about privacy, the "immortalization" of cells, and the commercialization of stem cells.
There was a "strong desire among participants to have full disclosure of the anticipated uses," the report notes, with some participants wanting to be able to veto certain uses of their cells. The authors acknowledge the "practical difficulties" of this request but hope that their findings will "prompt investigation into creative approaches to meeting these desires."