Myths and facts related to stem cell research, explained by Dr Rajiv Sarin  

Stem cells and their benefits have been one of the most widely spoken topics these days. In an interview, Professor and Dr Rajiv Sarin, radiation oncologist from Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) and the Chairperson of National Apex Committee for Stem Cell Research and Therapy talks in detail about stem cells, its benefits and its myths

Q: What is the current condition of stem cell research in India and who is the supervising body?

A: The National Apex Committee for Stem Cell Research and Therapy (NAC-SCRT) is the apex body constituted by the Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India to oversee the activities in the field of stem cell research in India.

The NAC-SCRT examines the scientific, technical, ethical, legal and social issues involving stem cell research and therapy in India.

Dr Rajiv Sarin

Q: What are the functions of this body?

A: The NAC-SCRT is a multidisciplinary committee with a Secretariat. It has two main functions:

  1. a) General oversight of the field of stem cell research and therapy in India and formulation of policy related to it
  2. b) Review of specific controversial or ethically sensitive research and proposals for therapeutic use of stem cells/differentiated derivatives.

Q: What are the clear cut benefits of stem cells?

A: As per the National Guidelines for Stem Cell Research – 2017, at present, there are no approved indications for stem cell therapy other than Haematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (HSCT) for haematological disorders.

There are no concrete evidences to say where all stem-cells can help.

Q: But we do hear about other benefits too. Are they permissible?

A: All stem cell therapies, other than the above shall be treated as investigational and may be conducted only in the form of clinical trials after obtaining necessary regulatory approvals. Use of stem cells for any other purpose outside the domain of clinical trials will be considered unethical and hence not permissible.

Q: What do you have to say about stem cell banking?

A: Honestly, it is a very noble work to be done. However, what does happen in a lot of cases is that people target pregnant women saying umbilical cord banking will help in the long term and all that. That, I think isn’t right. Pregnant women are vulnerable and so they are easy targets.