Ethical issues in human embryos research shape new global guidelines

Professor Megan Munsie welcomes a refreshed stem cell research framework.

The International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) today released updated guidelines for stem cell research and its translation to medicine.

Professor Megan Munsie, from the School of Biomedical Sciences and Melbourne Medical School, served on the global taskforce that developed a series of detailed recommendations in response to recent scientific and clinical developments.

At the top of the list of reforms was providing clarity around the ethical and policy issues raised by the use of human embryos in research; creation of human embryo models using stem cells; use of chimeric animals and embryos in research; clinical translation of stem cell-based therapies, and applications of technologies such as mitochondrial donation and genome editing.

Prof Munsie said, the new guidelines outline a clear map of what type of stem cell research requires a higher level of review, including what practices are exempt, and what forms of research continue to be explicitly prohibited due to lack of compelling scientific justification and ethical concerns.

“Notably, prohibited activities continue to include a ban on attempts to achieve a pregnancy in a woman using a cloned embryo, model embryos made from human stem cells or an animal-human embryo.

“Research involving the use of human stem cells to make 3D laboratory models that mimic early human embryos, such as the recently reported blastoid research, is an example of permissible research only following rigorous independent specialised review.”


The updates also recognise that some areas of stem cell research require independent specialised scientific and ethical review – that includes community members and people with expertise in the relevant science, ethics and law – beyond that usually required and conducted at an institutional level.

“The guidelines are there to provide a reference point for researchers, doctors, industry, funding agency, policy makers and the public,” Prof Munsie added. “While national regulations and existing ethical frameworks will need to be taken into consideration, these regularly revised global guidelines provide a basis to drive important discussions around stem cell research at a domestic level.”

The International Stem Cell Guidelines will be reviewed again in 2026.

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