Until March 2002, Canada had no laws to govern stem cell research, nor were there any guidelines for researchers, research ethics boards, or funding agencies on how stem cells may be derived and used. Recognizing the urgent need for clear guidelines that would allow for response to rapidly evolving science and shifting public opinion, and to ensure ethical and scientific oversight, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) announced guidelines for human pluripotent stem cell research in March 2002. The federal granting agencies, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) (“the Agencies”) subsequently adopted interim Tri-Agency stem cell measures, agreeing that no research with human pluripotent stem cells would be funded without the prior review and approval of the Stem Cell Oversight Committee (SCOC) in conformity with the CIHR guidelines. The measures incorporate adherence to the Guidelines as a condition of Agency-funded research, and were adopted to afford time to integrate the Guidelines into the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans, in a manner consistent with the developing federal regulatory regime for human embryonic stem cell research.

Canadian researchers have been pioneers in the area of stem cell research and continue to lead the way using animal models. With the introduction of these Guidelines, Canadian researchers are now able to move forward and remain at the forefront of their field while conducting their research according to explicit ethical standards. Funding agencies, Research Ethics Boards, and universities now have a framework to guide their evaluation and approval decisions. Canadians can be assured that the research made possible by federal public funds will be undertaken within a well-defined ethical and legal framework.

Contact for IASCR: Cheryl Rogers, Ph.D., Trade Commissioner, Consulate of Canada, San Diego