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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 4 Hansard (10 April) . . Page.. 924 ..

MRS CROSS (continuing):

I know what it is like to be incapacitated for an extended period-for four years, in fact. I can, therefore, appreciate the despair with which some people have to live their everyday lives-despair that could probably be lifted by this new technology.

MR SPEAKER: We can come back to that, Mrs Cross.

MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Health, Minister for Community Affairs and Minister for Women) (3.43): I commend Mrs Cross for advancing this as a matter of public importance. This certainly is a matter of significant public importance. I think it is appropriate that the Assembly be informed on this, and debate the issue.

As Mrs Cross has said, this was a significant issue for discussion and decision at last week's COAG meeting. To give some brief background on the issue of stem cell research, I will give some background to that meeting and those discussions.

The isolation and culturing of stem cells has raised considerable debate in the community. In June 2001, COAG committed to achieving nationally consistent provisions in legislation to prohibit human cloning by June 2002. COAG also agreed that jurisdictions would work towards nationally consistent approaches to regulate assisted reproductive technology and related human technologies.

As Mrs Cross has said, on Friday, 5 April 2002, COAG agreed that excess IVF embryos, that would otherwise be destroyed, be allowed to be used for research, provided they were not cultured after 5 April 2002, that donor consent was given, and that the research was controlled by a strict regulatory regime, backed by ethical oversight.

Mr Speaker, a stem cell is a specialised kind of cell that has a unique capacity to renew itself and give rise to specialised cell types. Although most cells of the body, such as heart cells or skin cells, are committed to conduct a specific function, a stem cell is uncommitted, and remains uncommitted, until it receives a signal to develop into a specialised cell.

Their proliferative capacity, combined with the ability to become specialised, makes stem cells unique. Researchers have, for years, looked for ways to use stem cells to replace cells and tissues that are damaged or diseased-and, recently, stem cells have received much attention. There are two types of stem cells-adult and embryonic. Adult stem cells are cultured from various tissues and have specific applications. Embryonic stem cells are cultured from embryos with no more than 200 cells and no more than 14 days old-usually at the six to eight days-old stage.

An adult stem cell is an undifferentiated cell that is found in specialised tissue in the adult, such as blood. It can yield the specialised cell types of the tissue from which it originated. In the body, it can renew itself. There are several types of adult stem cells. I will not go into great detail on the characteristics of adult stem cells, other than to differentiate them from embryonic stem cells.

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