“Stem cells are enormous help in improving scientific knowledge”

Carles Miquel Colell, coordinator of the Research and Innovation programme for the Generalitat’s Department of Health, is Chairman of the CMRB Ethics Committee (CEIC). Doctor of internal medicine by profession, he started off in the world of healthcare, proceeded to healthcare management, teaching, and currently, research coordination. Dr. Miquel explains the whys and wherefores of the CEIC of the CMRB.

Dr Carles Miquel

How long has the committee existed?

In Spain in 2006, a unique approval mechanism was created to establish certain safeguards in the use of pre-embryos left over from in vitro fertilization for stem cell research. In particular, it is necessary to ensure that permission be received from the progenitors, that there exists no other research model that would yield the same results and that the research team is fully prepared and has sufficient resources to carry out the project, amongst other things. For this reason the “Commission of safeguards for the donation and use of human tissues and cells” was established in Madrid. And in Catalonia the CMRB CEIC (Clinical Research Ethical Committee) was created to be the sole organisation accredited to authorise these projects before going to the Commission in Madrid.

Who is it made up of?

There are currently 13 people, from different disciplines: a biologist, three pharmacists, a clinical pharmacologist, two nurses, a customer services representative, a gynaecologist, two lawyers, an expert in bioethics and a technician, which is me, and I am the link between the Committee and the Department of Health. We try to make sure there are no CMRB researchers in the committee in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

What kind of projects do you evaluate?

Any study that uses stem cells in Catalonia, both embryonic and the newer induced pluripotent cells (iPS). These are obtained from the dedifferentiation of adult cells. But in many countries these types of stem cells are not covered by CEIC specifics, as they are derived from adult, not embryonic or foetal tissue.

What procedure must be followed for a stem cell project? How long does it take?

The researchers have to prepare a series of documents that must first go through the centre’s own ethics committee, if there is one, and later, in Catalonia, through the CMRB CEIC. We assess and improve the project as far as possible before sending it to the Safeguards Committee in Madrid – to which I also belong – who prepare a mandatory report. This can take between 3 and 5 months, depending on whether clarification or further information is requested.

Why is stem cell research important?

The original idea was that of regenerative medicine: to be able to create organs and tissues to substitute damaged or old ones, and researchers are working on that. But even if this promise wasn’t totally fulfilled, these types of cells are still extremely important to the furthering of our scientific knowledge. And in the case of iPSs, they are fantastic models. We can take pluripotent cells from a Parkinson’s sufferer, for example, and use them to study the disease and test potential therapies.

This interview was published in the May 2013 edition of El·lipse, the monthly newspaper of the PRBB

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