World Congress

for freedom of scientific research

Italy's stem-cell challenge gaining momentum

02/11/2010

We hereby copy a letter by Professor Elena Cattaneo, Elisabetta Cerbai and Silvia Garagna, published yesterday by Nature. Luca Coscioni Association raised funds to help the three researchers suing over human embryonic stem cells. A hundred researchers from all over the world donated to this fund. Read more.

The first Court (Tribunal of Latium) rejected their appeal on July 2009 and said that the dean of a hospital or the rector of the university (and not the three scientists), should have appealed instead of the three individual scientists. According to this ruling the freedom and right of (legal) research, acknowledged by the Italian Constitution as an individual right, would disappear, Last december 2009, the second Court (State Council) questioned again the legitimacy of their appeal on the grounds it was “defective of [the demonstration that] a research proposal [on hES cells] was prepared and submitted�?. But the call excluded such a submission. Neverthless, one of the three appellants had prepared and submitted by the deadline. This Court also said it is the content of the call itself that defines what can be funded. But the three scientists contend that the minister that opens such calls has no rights (and no competence) to exclude a type of research that is (legal and) pertinent to the field identified by the Government as “strategically relevant and to be financed�?. Read the chronology of the action. Italy's stem-cell challenge gaining momentum Elena Cattaneo1, Elisabetta Cerbai2 & Silvia Garagna3 1. Università degli Studi di Milano, Milan 20122, Italy Email: elena.cattaneo@unimi.it 2. Università degli Studi di Firenze, Florence 50121, Italy 3. Università degli Studi di Pavia, Pavia 27100, Italy Last summer we unsuccessfully challenged the Italian government in the courts, over its decision to exclude human embryonic stem cells from a ministerial research-funding call for projects studying the biology and therapeutic use of stem cells (see Nature 460, 19; 2009; Nature 460, 449; 2009). As scientists concerned about inappropriate political interference in scientific affairs, we intend to continue the fight through the courts, even if it takes years. The case is politically and culturally significant, particularly in Italy. We believe this exclusion of a research topic that is legal and scientifically important amounts to an abuse of power. Widespread indifference makes this battle difficult. We hope to alert the entire scientific community inside and outside Italy to the importance of an open discussion on how public money for research is allocated, and to warn students, the media, politicians and academics about the risk of any type of ideological conditioning of science. It is bad enough for our chronically cash-starved community that the Italian government is cutting funding for research, innovation and education in the face of the current financial crisis, and that the government's system for funding distribution is less transparent than it should be. Italian scientists doing basic research must fight back if they do not want to be marginalized from the international scene. (published by Nature 463, 729 (11 February 2010) | doi:10.1038/463729c; Published online 10 February 2010)

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