More MS news articles for Mar 2002

Australian State Backs Stem Cell Research

Mar 14, 2002

SYDNEY, Australia (Reuters) - Australia's most populous state vowed on Thursday to defy the national government and set up its own embryonic stem cell research facility to stop local scientists from taking their work overseas.

Australia's conservative national government is due to meet the six state leaders--all from the federal opposition Labor party--on April 5 to debate Australia's position on the use of stem cells from discarded human embryos for research.

Australian companies and universities are among world leaders in stem cell research, but local media have reported since February that Prime Minister John Howard's government might ban the use of spare embryos from in vitro fertilization.

But New South Wales Premier Bob Carr said such research was important because of its potential to find cures for diseases such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer's disease and spinal cord injuries. "It is absolutely vital that we enable our medical research scientists to proceed with work they're doing," Carr said.

"If the prime minister goes ahead with this plan then some of our best medical research is going to leave these shores and they're going to take their brilliant skills to the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere," Carr added.

Australian Minister for Aging Kevin Andrews presented the controversial issue to Howard's cabinet on February 25. After that meeting, Andrews' spokeswoman said that the government had not reached a decision and would wait until after the April 5 meeting.

Carr told reporters his state would set up its own rules governing stem cell research using discarded embryos if the national government decided to ban it. "What we'd do is set up our own regime in New South Wales, our own regulations, our own ethical code, that will enable this research to continue here and the federal government would then have to go to extraordinary lengths to close it down," he said.

Other Australian states are yet to declare publicly whether they would follow New South Wale's lead and defy any national ban.

A spokeswoman for Victorian state Premier Steve Bracks said Victoria supported such research in principle but would wait until after the April meeting before taking an official position.

© 2002 Reuters Ltd