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Human Embryonic Stem Cells

to Test Medicines for Toxicity

a Democs game

to discuss an emerging field of science and medicine

and what it could mean for our lives

ESNATS Democs cover image

This Democs game has been created by Edinethics Ltd
as part of ESNATS Project,
funded by the European Commission Framework 7 Research Programme

ESNATS Logo Embryonic Stem cell-based Novel Alternative Testing Strategies

Download the Game

What's the Issue?

Whenever medical researchers identify a potential new drug to treat disease, it has to undergo rigorous tests to be accepted as safe enough for doctors to prescribe to patients. This includes judging their likely toxic effects, usually testing them on animals. This is ethically sensitive, expensive, and toxic effects in humans donít always show up clearly in animal tests. Human cells would often be a better alternative, but getting enough good cells to test has often been difficult.

In the ESNATS project, scientists have been creating large quantities of different cells of the human body, starting from the special cells found in the early human embryo, called human embryonic stem cells or hESCs. Their aim is to create new tests to show up any toxic effects which a potential new drug might have on the heart, liver, nervous and reproductive systems and during early embryo development.

But embryonic stem cells are controversial. Just as using animals to test drugs raises ethical questions, so does using cells which were originally derived from human embryos. In the ESNATS project we think this is justifiable, but we want to give you the opportunity to consider this for yourselves, and form your own views. You may be familiar with the debates about research into using human embryonic stem cells to treat serious degenerative diseases like Parkinsonís, Alzheimerís and diabetes. But their use to replace animal testing has not been widely discussed so far. This Democs game gives you a chance to do this. The game has been written by Edinethics Ltd, an Edinburgh-based consultancy company on ethics and technology, which is one of the partners in the ESNATS project.

What is a Democs Game?

What is a Democs Game?

Democs is a conversation card game, a group discussion method based around cards. Players get hands of cards and take turns to play them. But instead of playing to win, they are playing to learn about an important new issue and form their opinions about it. At the end of the game, the players will get to vote on policy options. The kit is made up of several different types of cards. Most have information, ideas or stories about the topic. It was first devised in 2001 by Perry Walker of the New Economics Foundation (nef), see for example their Schools Democs games, and the game has been widely used for many different issues.

Democs is designed to be played anywhere, by anyone. All you need is a kit, about six to eight people (though you can play with more or less), a table and an hour and a half to two hours. You donít need to know anything about the topic to run a game and the rules are simple and easy to understand.

To find out more, see How does a Democs Game Work?

This Democs game has been created as part of a European Commission research project called ESNATS to explain about using stem cells as alternatives to animal testing of pharmaceutical drugs, and to ask members of the public like you what you think about the issues involved.

Have Democs games been made on other subjects? Yes! If you are interested, a lot more Democs Games have been created on different subjects from cloning to climate change, and in different languages. They are available free to download on the PlayDecide website, created for the EC research projects (DECIDE and FUND).

Human Embryonic Stem Cells to Test Medicines for Toxicity: a Democs Game

Do you want to Play the Game?

If you would like to explore these issues and have a group of friends, neighbours, family or workmates who'd like to have a go, you have two options: downloaded it or send for a hard copy by post.

Download: You can download the whole game from this website, free, and print it out for yourself. You will need to download the following 7 files. We find light white card 120 - 160 gsm weight is easier to handle than ordinary paper. Check what your printer can handle. There's quite a lot of cutting up to do. A guillotine may help.

Instructions (1 booklet)
Story cards (1 set of 8 cards)
Info cards
(1 set of 32 cards on 4 A4 pages)
Issue cards
(1 set of 36 cards on 5 A4 pages)
Cluster cards
(1 set of 4 cards on 1 A4 page)
Voting Grid
(1 A4 sheet, 1 per game)
Comment Sheet
(1 A4 sheet, 1 each needed per player)

These three set of cards are not essential to run the game, but can help:
Yellow cards
Blank cards
Feedback form

Post : The hard copy comes in a small box, with all the cards and full instructions. And it's free, as part of the EC research project. Send us your address and we'll post it to you :
Donald Bruce, Edinethics Ltd.,11/6 Dundonald Street, Edinburgh EH3 6RZ.

Do you want to see what's involved first?

If you want to get a better idea what this is all about, just download the Instruction Booklet pdf file, and read for yourself.

Once you've played the game : Results

There is a feed back form for you want to tell us who you are, where and when you played it, and what you thought about the game.

If we get enough games played and analysed it will give us an idea what people think about this as an issue. So we'd be very interested in the results - cluster cards, voting sheet and comments sheets. If you can send the results by post to : Donald Bruce, Edinethics Ltd.,11/6 Dundonald Street, Edinburgh EH3 6RZ.

We hope to have a feedback and results facility available on-line shortly.

Want to Play it Again? : Extra Cards

If you have played the game and want to play it again with another group of people, you can re-use the Story, Information and Issue Cards, and the Instructions, but you will need to print out 4 new Cluster Cards, 1 Voting Grid, and enough Comment Sheets (1 each per player), and a Feedback form. You can Download them here:

Voting Grid
Comment Sheet
Cluster cards
Feedback form


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