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Government to ask public what they think of stem cell science

Medical Research Council website

2 March 2007

Science and Innovation Minister Malcolm Wicks has today 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.

ENDS

Notes to editors

The public dialogue programme will start in the next few months with the recruitment of a commissioning group, followed by an official launch in autumn 2007.

BBSRC funds fundamental bioscience research, including work to understand the basic biology of stem cells. The MRC supports the full spectrum of biomedical research, including stem cell science. The MRC currently funds more than 100 stem cell research programmes, fellowships and studentships in the UK, as well as two units and three research centres. They also support the UK Stem Cell Bank.

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

About MRC

The Medical Research Council is dedicated to improving human health through excellent science. It invests on behalf of the UK taxpayer. Its work ranges from molecular level science to public health research, carried out in universities, hospitals and a network of its own units and institutes. The MRC liaises with the Health Departments, the National Health Service and industry to take account of the public’s needs. The results have led to some of the most significant discoveries in medical science and benefited the health and wealth of millions of people in the UK and around the world.  http://www.mrc.ac.uk

About Sciencewise

Sciencewise is a DTI funded programme to bring scientists, government and the public together to explore the impact of science and technology in our lives.  It helps policy makers in Government departments and agencies commission and use public dialogue to inform decision-making in emerging areas of science and technology. Its core aim is to develop the capacity of Government to carry out good dialogue, to gather and disseminate good practice, have successful two-way communications with the public and other stakeholders, and to embed the principles of good dialogue into internal Government processes.

External contact

MRC Press Office

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Rebecca Underhill, DTI Press Office

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Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

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