While ethical considerations can sometimes appear to take a back seat to lab results within the world of research, they are an integral part of any successful project -– or project proposal. Stem cell research is no exception –- in fact, given the vibrant and, at times, controversial history of this field, stem cell research has been used as an example of best practices in cross-disciplinary research, which includes ethics.
Despite this integration of ethics within stem cell research, for most lab researchers, it’s not always obvious where they ought to be applied. Recently, the W. Maurice Young Centre for Applied Ethics at the University of British Columbia, led by Dr. Michael McDonald, developed a stem cell ethics web site that can be used by Canadian and international researchers and trainees. The site is a useful starting point on the ethical aspects of stem cell research and presents a huge array of topics from the ethical use of tissues to the commercialization of stem cell research. For those new to the field, the site can answer questions about the ethics of publishing your work, the ethical review process, or the protection of animal and human subjects.
The content of site, as well as its various functions, reflect the needs and perspectives of stem cell community members. These views were determined through an extensive two-year ethics needs assessment that sought to identify ethical issues regarding stem cell research by drawing feedback from those actively involved in the field in Canada. As part of the assessment, the research team completed interviews, focus groups and an online survey with trainees, principal investigators, research ethics board members, and governance experts from across Canada. All results were analyzed to identify significant themes and topics that were then used to inform the web site content. The final validated list of 13 themes are the ones that appear on the site.
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