Australian Researchers’ Mobility Portal

Friday 12th January 2007

As the new year gets underway, young researchers in cutting-edge and politically contentious fields are forced to examine how their respective sectors have progressed over the past year and the direction they will take in the new one. Human stem cell research has arguably been one of the most debated scientific issues at national and European levels in recent years. As such, a recent Science article had a look at the state of affairs for stem cell research in Europe. The magazine took stock of human stem cell policy across the EU and examined its effects on young researchers making career choices in an equally nascent field. Several researchers point to such initiatives as Marie-Curie mobility grants and the flagship project EuroStemCell, funded by the EU’s framework programme, as reasons why they have chosen to tie their careers to Europe’s stem cell future.

As human stem cell research is debated in legislatures across Europe, laboratories have moved ahead with their work operating under the prevailing regulatory regimes of their home country. With such regulations in mind, young researchers have established themselves in the country best suited for their career aspirations. Career choices for stem cell researchers often play out on two levels. Once political obstacles have been effectively avoided, scientists often then have financial hurdles to address.

Although certain countries may allow human stem cell research, such projects must compete with more traditional research for grants, requiring them to look to EU funding to get off the ground. Science highlighted Greek researcher Evangelia Papadimou’s career path as one that has consistently been aided by EU-supported initiatives.

Dr Papadimou obtained a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Patras before becoming interested in embryonic stem cell research. She was able to follow her interests thanks to a Marie Curie Fellowship, which funded to a two-year post-doctorial stint in France. She hoped to continue her work in France, although regulations current at that time prevented her from doing so. Paradoxically, she found a position in Italy, one of the strictest countries when it comes to stem cells, according to Science. She began work at the University of Milan which was participating in the EuroStemCell project.

“All [public] funding agencies and most private agencies exclude research on human lines,” Elena Cattaneo, head of the Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Pharmacology of Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of Milan, where Dr Papadimou conducts her research, told Science. “If you want to work on human embryonic stem cell lines, the only hope is to get an EU grant.”

In general, liberal policies towards human stem cell research have made Europe an attractive destination for experts from around the world, according to Science. Some point to the international networks facilitated by EuroStemCell as reasons why Europe is the place best suited to conduct such research.

“You know what people are doing‚[and] who to contact. And they will know you, which makes a big difference,” Malin Parmar, a Swedish post-doc researcher at EuroStemCell participant University of Edingburgh told Science.