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[NEW DELHI] India and China are planning joint biomedical research, with stem cell research and traditional medicine emerging as key areas for collaboration.

An Indian spokesperson in Delhi told SciDev.Net that the potential for cooperation arose during Indian health minister Ambumani Ramadoss's visit to China, which ended today (21 November). Exact details are still being finalised.

Before Ramadoss's visit, several Chinese delegations met with the Indian Council of Medical Research to identify areas for potential collaboration.

In the field of traditional medicine, these include surveying and documenting medicinal plants, creating scientist exchange schemes, and developing systems for both approving the sale of traditional medicines and regulating the trade.

Ramadoss, who visited China's National Vaccine and Serum Institute and the Stem Cell Research Institute in Beijing last week, is also exploring collaboration in stem cell research.

India sees stem cells as a key area for research (see India plans national stem cell initiative). Earlier this month, Ramadoss discussed potential collaboration with South Korea, one of the field's leaders.

But despite government support and scientific know-how, the sector has been plagued by concerns over India's lack of a regulatory authority to ensure that guidelines are being followed.

And while press briefings often describe doctors using stem cells to treat diseases, they rarely provide evidence that the research has been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

"The health ministry is planning to regulate stem cell research in India because it has started growing in an uncontrollable way in private clinics," says a statement from the health ministry.

"Adopting a cautious approach and a semblance of discipline is a must for research on stem cells," it adds.