Rome

Over 600 patients asking stem-cell treatments

Italian law passed Wednesday opens door for therapy

Over 600 patients asking stem-cell treatments

Rome, May 23 - Some 600 patients are preparing to appeal in Italian courts for stem-cell treatments following the approval of a law on Wednesday legalizing its therapy, research and permitting those who have begun stem-cell treatments to continue them. The law passed overwhelming in the Italian Senate with 259 yes votes, two nays and six abstaining. According to the president of the Italian Stamina Foundation for stem-cell research and treatment, David Vannoni, the patients ready to appeal are in "emergency situations and have already obtained the necessary prescription" from his treatment center. Vannoni, whose research group has carried treatments at a Brescia hospital, is asking that the patients be given the choice of stem-cell treatments from Stamina laboratories, not only State-sponsored centers. "The fear of is that these patients will fall outside of the requirements of the approved decree (therefore not be treated)," Vannoni said. "Great expertise is needed to produce this line according to Stamina protocol and we want our biologist to be the ones to do so, obviously with maximum transparency," Vannoni said. The law passed on Wednesday budgets three million euros for an 18-month stem-cell therapy research programme sponsored by the health ministry and set to begin July 1. The Higher Institute for Health (ISS), a state health institution for research and education, will coordinate research, and work with the Italian pharmaceutical agency AIFA and the National Transplant Centre. The stem-cell law officially approves what is already being carried out by Stamina in at least one hospital, despite previous court rulings against stem-cell therapy. A toddler at the Brescia hospital in northern Italy has been undergoing stem-cell treatment which the government grudgingly approved of in March. At the time, the health minister said it would be risky to the child's health to stop treatments that were underway. Stem-cell treatment, which is legal in Italy in life-threatening instances, is contentious because it sometimes involves the destruction of a human embryo. Italy banned the use of embryos in stem-cell research in 2004, but in 2007 Italian researchers obtained adult stem-cells which they said were as effective as those obtained from embryos.

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