One of the most exciting areas of medical research involves the use of stem cells for the treatment of patients with a variety of diseases and for tissue repair. Although stem cell research is accelerating rapidly in many countries, it has in the past been limited in South Africa (SA); very little has been done in this country to explore the great potential offered by stem cells to address the high disease burden. Stem cell therapy has however been practised for many years, in SA and worldwide, in the form of haematopoietic stem cell transplantation, mainly for haematological malignancies.
From a therapeutic perspective, two types of stem cells can be defined: pluripotent stem cells and adult stem cells. Pluripotent cells derived from the inner cell mass of blastocysts (either from in vitro fertilisation or following somatic cell nuclear transfer) are called embryonic stem (ES) cells, while those derived by reprogramming adult cells are called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. Adult stem cells include haematopoietic, mesenchymal and neural stem cells.
The purpose of this article is to critically examine the SA legislation with regard to elements that impact on pluripotent stem cell research and the use of pluripotent stem cells for therapeutic purposes. This includes (but is not limited to) legislation from the National Health Act (Chapter 8 in particular) and its regulations, and deals with matters related to research on embryos in the stem cell context, somatic cell nuclear transfer, reproductive and therapeutic cloning and the generation and therapeutic use of iPS and ES cells.