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Transfusion. 2005 Oct;45(4 Suppl):144S-58S.

Administrative and research policies required to bring cellular therapies from the research laboratory to the patient's bedside.

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Blood Bank of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI 96819, USA.


The research process is a balance between the inherent risks of new discoveries and the risks of research participant safety. Conflicts of interest, inherent to the research process, as well as those introduced by emerging cellular therapies, have the potential to compromise safety. The relationship of trust between the researcher and the clinical trial participant facilitates objective decision making, in the best interest of both parties. In the setup of each clinical trial, investigators incorporate ethical, political, legal, financial, and regulatory considerations as protocols are established. Responsibility to abide by these decisions ensures a systematic process and safeguards participants in this process. The integrity of the research process is strengthened by identifying potential conflicting issues with the guiding principles established in the protocols, which may threaten the objectivity of involved parties and jeopardize safety of the participants. The rapid pace and changing paradigms of new discoveries in cellular therapies exaggerate existing conflicts and introduce new ones. Ethical issues raised by emerging cellular therapies include the division of opinions regarding the use of embryonic and fetal tissue to develop stem cell lines for research, the individual versus professional conscience of a researcher, overselling of outcomes as a result of the researcher's desire to be the first to discover a cellular therapy, and therapeutic misconception resulting from a participant's desire for a miracle cure. The basic ethical issue of whether stem cells should be utilized as a cellular therapy raises heated debates because some believe that it is not acceptable to use fetal material as a source of research material for future cures and others feel equally as strong that inaction is unethical because it results in needless suffering and death owing to the absence of this research. Political issues include the divergent position statements of presidential administrations on cellular therapy, variations in individual state laws, and states becoming involved in research funding, such as California's Proposition 71. Legal concerns include expanding private litigation with diversity of lawsuits, expanding lists of defendants, and the use of class-action lawsuits in research cases. Ownership issues also arise in terms of intellectual property, patents, and ownership of stem cells collected from minors, as in umbilical cord blood donations. Situations that challenge the regulatory processes established to ensure participant safety include differences in reporting requirements for private- and public-funded research and the lack of adequate funding and resources to implement and support the institutional review board (IRB) process. Financial considerations influence the development of clinical protocols, because funding is often limited. Financial incentives, personal investment in companies funding research activities, and fundraising pressures may present potential conflicts. In addition, the increasing role of emerging biotechnology start-up companies and pharmaceutical companies in clinical research introduces additional financial considerations. Administrative policies are needed to address these possible conflicts and ensure research participant safety as cellular therapies progress from the research laboratories to the patient's bedside. Administrative policies to ensure minimum standards of quality for emerging products before human clinical trials, policies to enforce consistent reporting requirements for private and public cellular research, policies to minimize financial conflicts of interest, policies to strengthen implementation of the existing IRB process and to structure into the process a consistent, systematic review of these identified conflicts, and policies to limit private litigation will help to preserve the objectivity of the review process and ultimately increase participant safety.

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