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Britain Pushes Forward with Stem-Cell Work

U.K. Seizes Opportunity as U.S. Shies Away from Embryo Research

Dec. 30, 2002
NPR News

Two recent events have transformed the world of biology: the development of cloning techniques, and the isolation of human embryonic stem cells. Although both of these topics are the subject of intense ethical debate, scientists say cloning and embryonic stem cells hold the potential to revolutionize medicine.

Controversy surrounds stem-cell research, and support varies among governments and institutions. President Bush has said that despite the potential of this research for treating diseases such as Parkinson's and diabetes, the destruction or creation of human embryos for this purpose is not justifiable. Mr. Bush has limited federal spending on embryonic stem cells, and some of his closest allies want to ban the research entirely. By contrast, Prime Minister Tony Blair has embraced stem-cell research and vowed that Great Britain will become the leader in the field.

In a three-part series for Morning Edition, NPR's Joe Palca visits British stem-cell laboratories to take a look at how research is done there. He also explores why some stem-cell biologists choose to work in Britain, while others pick the United States.

Part 1, Dec. 30, 2002

Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised to help Great Britain become a world leader in stem-cell research and therapy. Several publicly funded centers in the United Kingdom are vigorously pursuing stem-cell research using embryos discarded by IVF clinics -- that would be illegal in the United States. Joe Palca reports on the progress they're making toward potential therapies.

Listen to Part 1 (requires RealPlayer)

Part 2, Dec. 31 2002

Britain allows the use of embryos discarded by IVF clinics for stem-cell research, and also permits the cloning of human embryos for this purpose. This decision has caused very few ripples. Palca examines the political, social and cultural factors that -- in marked contrast to the United States -- make research with human embryonic stem cells acceptable in the U.K.

Listen to Part 2 (requires RealPlayer)

Part 3, Jan. 1, 2003

In order to gauge whether restrictions affecting stem-cell research in the United States could make it lag behind Britain and Europe in terms of progress towards therapies, Palca visits a top-notch American researcher who has chosen to work on stem cells in Britain, and a leading British researcher who left the U.K. to lead a major stem-cell lab in the U.S.

Listen to Part 3 (requires RealPlayer)

In Depth

Hear recent coverage of the issue from NPR's archives.

Learn about the science behind stem cell research and read the NIH stem cell primer.

Go to our online resource list to learn more about the scientific and ethical debates, and the organizations involved.

Learn how cloning relates to stem cell research.

Copyright 2002 NPR News