Manama: The latest in stem cell research, its applications for developing new therapeutic approaches for a variety of diseases and policy options available within cultural, ethical, and religious parameters will be the focus of a conference in Qatar next month.

The Qatar International Conference on Stem Cell Science and Policy, organized by Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF) and the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, will bring together scientists and experts from international and regional research and medical institutions and ethicists and policymakers.

Stem cell science offers a large number of potential applications, including the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, as well as infectious and neurodegenerative diseases," Faisal Mohammad Al Suwaidi, QF's President of Research and Development said.

"Qatar has one of the most permissible policies on stem cell research, in line with Islamic ethics, and this conference will provide a unique platform at the convergence of science, ethics and policy where scientists and experts from Qatar and around the world can exchange ideas on the latest developments in stem cell research," he said.

The Qatar International Conference on Stem Cell Science and Policy, scheduled for February 27 through March 1, is the culmination of a series of initiatives led by QF to develop stem cell research in Qatar and the region.

Through its partnership with the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, QF opened up a dialogue in the Middle East on the ethical and religious perspectives related to stem cell research for the first time in 2009.

Senior Islamic scholars from across the Arab world met later that year in a separate session that ultimately issued a fatwa permitting the use of embryonic stem cells for research and therapy, and emphasising the importance of stem cell research in the region -a breakthrough in the field.

A public forum in May 2010 engaged the Qatar community in a discussion with scientists, ethicists, policymakers and Islamic scholars to clear misconceptions among the public about stem cell research.

"As we explore new and developing areas in science research, we must simultaneously examine the ethics and develop the policies that guide that research, particularly in controversial areas like stem cell research," Khalid Al Subai, QF's Director of Research Coordination and Compliance, said.

"Through conferences such as this one, Qatar Foundation connects policy and science in an international context, while promoting stronger avenues for cooperation and advancement in medical science and science-based policy," he said.

The Qatar International Conference on Stem Cell Science and Policy is part of the joint International Program on Stem Cell Science Policy developed by Qatar Foundation and James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

The aim of the programme is to develop stem cell research in Qatar as well as to find ways to address the shared challenges of community support for stem cell research in Doha and Houston. The programme has supported several events since its inception, including meetings, workshops, and training programs in Doha and Houston.

"Research in Qatar has expanded since the 2009 event and will continue to under the leadership of Qatar Foundation," Kirstin Matthews, Fellow in Science and Technology and Director of the Baker Institute International Stem Cell Policy Program at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, said. "The 2012 stem cell conference is a step towards showing the world some of the science that is taking place in Qatar and building future scientific collaborations," she said.