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China's New Stem Cell Rules

China has announced new rules governing the use of stem cell treatments that it says will curb unproven treatments yet enable research, Nature News reports.

China Daily adds that the regulations from the National Health and Family Planning Commission deem treatments involving stem cells to be experimental, except for some hematopoietic stem cell therapies for leukemia and other blood diseases. An official from the commission tells the paper that only eligible hospitals may use stem cell treatments as part of clinical trials and any others that do so will be punished, though what that punishment might be is unclear.

After years of clinics in China ignoring regulations and warnings from the international scientific community, Nature News says that the Chinese government banned unapproved stem-cell therapies in 2012 and put a moratorium in place on clinical trials. But that, it says, led to rogue clinics pushing ahead with unproven therapies while researchers with legitimate projects had been left waiting.

Those researchers, Nature News adds are "itching to get started." For instance, Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology's Jianwu Dai has treated people with spinal cord injuries using a small collagen scaffold seeded with mononuclear cells and has seen some improvements, but wants to try seeing it with neural stem cells derived from embryonic stem cells as he suspects the results may be even better.

But, Qi Zhou from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Zoology, who wants to move his study of a stem cell-based treatment for Parkinson's disease treatment from monkeys to people, says that some clinics may still offer untested treatments.

"Some hospitals, some companies won't care. They do what they want," he tells Nature News.