More MS news articles for Dec 2001

Nobel medicine laureates support stem cell cloning

By Jan Strupczewski

STOCKHOLM, Dec 07 (Reuters) - This year's Nobel medicine laureates on Friday threw their weight behind calls to allow the cloning of human embryos to produce stem cells for medical research.

British Nobel laureate Paul Nurse said the issue of cloning human cells aroused more passion than rational debate and that research should not be banned over concerns of potential abuse.

"There are real advantages to therapeutic stem cell cloning and their use towards the treatment of degenerative diseases which would allow the generation of cells that could replace damaged tissues," Nurse told a news conference in Stockholm.

"It should not, of course, be confused with reproductive cloning of human beings. would be a mistake not to do something only because it could be used in the wrong way."

Stem cells are immature cells with the potential to turn into any type of cell and hold immense, though still unproven, promise for treating many diseases, including Parkinson's, diabetes and heart disease.

But many oppose any form of cloning on ethical grounds, fearing it could eventually lead to creating a whole person.

The US House of Representatives, backed by President George W. Bush, voted in August to ban all human cell cloning and allow federal funding for research only into existing stem cell colonies. Privately funded firms can do as they please.

But the US Senate has put off action because it is divided between those who want to stop all forms of cloning and those who want to prevent the cloning of a human baby while permitting cloning for therapeutic reasons.

Nurse and compatriot Timothy Hunt and Leland Hartwell from the United States received the 2001 Nobel prize for physiology or medicine for helping understand how cells divide, a key to finding out why some go haywire as in cancer cells.

Hartwell said he expected their research would lead to major changes in pharmacology, making it possible to create highly specialised medicines targeting individual cells.

This year's prize is worth a record 10 million Swedish crowns ($953,900), which the three laureates will share.

Hartwell said he would spend his share of the money to start a fund for children's education. Hunt said he would pay off his mortgage and Nurse said he would buy a new motorbike.

Nurse said he believed the biggest task facing physiology this century will be to determine the workings of the human genome.

"The human genome is the list of actors but we have not even sorted out the plot yet, let alone what they have to say," he said.

Copyright © 2001 Reuters Limited