British Government to ask public what they think of stem cell science

Britain's Science and Innovation Minister Malcolm Wicks has announced that the UK's two major public funders of stem cell research will run a national public discussion about this cutting-edge area of science.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC) will run the public dialogue programme to gain an insight into public attitudes towards stem cell research. In this fast moving and important area of science it is essential to know public concerns, views and attitudes, as well as to provide an opportunity for scientists to discuss with the public the challenges that researchers face and the potential benefits from this challenging field of research.

The programme of activities will be sponsored by the Sciencewise unit of the Department of Trade and Industry. It will aim to bring scientists and the public together to identify public expectations, aspirations and concerns about stem cell research.

Speaking at a meeting of leading experts in the field of stem cells in London today, Mr Wicks said: "The Government believes that stem cell research offers enormous potential to deliver new treatments for many devastating diseases where there is currently no effective cure. Huge numbers of people are affected by these diseases and Britain is a world-leader in stem cell research. But there must be a proper dialogue with the wider public on the future of stem cell research. We need to raise public awareness about the potential opportunities and challenges in this area, and that is why this new Sciencewise programme is so important. "

A key element will be to raise awareness about world-class stem cell research in the UK and the progress that is being made towards potential treatments, while communicating realistic examples of its potential.

Professor Julia Goodfellow, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: "It is essential that scientists working in areas such as stem cell research engage in a real dialogue with the public. The new programme will give scientists, funders and the government up-to-date information on what the public really think about stem cell research while giving people the chance to voice their views and concerns. It will also allow the science community to talk to people about the first-class stem cell science in the UK and what the realistic applications are likely to be."

Professor Colin Blakemore, MRC Chief Executive "Scientists who work on stem cells want to ensure they maintain the trust and support of the public for their research. But to achieve this, we need to explain what work is being carried out and why it's being done. We also want to make sure that people are aware of the possibilities of research, what it's realistically likely to achieve, and, above all, the importance of meticulous and careful research that takes ethical issues into account. And we must do everything possible to be sure that potential treatments are safe before they are tested on patients.

"Open dialogue will raise awareness among scientists as well as members of the public. And it could also help us to move more quickly towards potential therapies. Discussion will help to make scientists understand the potential of their work and policy-makers aware of the public's views. In turn, this might lead to laboratory discoveries being applied more quickly in the clinic."

BBSRC and MRC have been awarded a Sciencewise grant of £300,000 to run the programme.

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