Biomedical Research Advances in Singapore: Government Announces Liberal Regulations for Stem Cell Research

Scientists in Singapore will be allowed to withdraw stem cells from adult human tissues, aborted fetuses, and surplus embryos less than 14 years old for research purposes, according to new guidelines approved by the Central Government July 17, 2002. The cloning of somatic cells, individual humans and hybridization between humans and animals will not be allowed. In line with its efforts to become a premier worldwide site for biomedical research and manufacturing, these recently approved guidelines make Singapore one of the world’s most liberal markets for stem cell research.

The new guidelines were announced after an extensive consultation process with local groups, including religious and professional associations. The government-created Bioethics Advisory Committee (BAC) released its recommendations, which were accepted without modification by the central government, in June. The new regulations require the informed voluntary consent of donors, prohibit the sale of donated materials, and contain a provision to protect conscientious objectors from participating in any research on human stem cells.

As reported in previous issues of the Pacific Bridge Asian Medical eNewsletter, the Singapore government, through its Economic Development Board, has been pumping money into the country’s burgeoning biotech industry for some time. For example, S$2 billion (US$1.1 billion) is earmarked to be used as incentive money to attract corporate biomedical research centers to Singapore. Singapore is also courting biotechnology professionals. Alan Colman, part of the team of scientists made famous by the successful cloning of Dolly the sheep, moved to Singapore to join a local research organization in March 2002, and other top scientific and medical experts have been drawn to the city-state as well. In 2001, the manufacturing output of Singapore’s biomedical industry was S$6.45 billion (US$3.67 billion), a 3.2 percent increase over the previous year and roughly 5 percent of the country’s total output. The government hopes to double this amount by 2010.