Mar 01, 2002
Britain gave the green light on Friday for two groups of scientists to begin research on stem cells derived from human embryos.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said it had given licences to the Centre for Genome Research at the University of Edinburgh and to Guy's Hospital, London. Neither licence includes nuclear cell transfer, commonly referred to as cloning.
The Edinburgh team plans to establish stem cell lines that will be deposited in a stem cell bank to be set up by the Medical Research Council. The goal is to increase knowledge of embryo development and to work towards treatments for ailments such as Parkinson's disease.
The project at Guy's Hospital, looking at infertility and miscarriages, will also deposit stem cell lines in the stem cell bank in a bid to develop treatments for neural and pancreatic diseases, according to a statement from the HFEA.
Professor Peter Brodie, a specialist in reproductive medicine at Guy's, said scientists had been working on mouse stem cells for many years and could direct these cells to make nerve cells, cardiac muscle cells and even cells which produce insulin.
"If we could move [human stem] cells down these directions, they could be used [in] degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease, perhaps to replace damaged heart muscle, perhaps to restore spinal columns and, most important of all, to replace cells in the pancreas in diabetes," he told BBC Radio.
Brodie said the work was still at the basic research stage. "I don't think it is appreciated that only a handful of stem cell lines have been created worldwide," he told BBC Radio. "Many of them are still to be verified as to whether they really are what they purport to be."
Critics of the research say it could be done in animal or adult stem cells rather than embryonic stem cells. But Brodie said adult stem cells did not have the same potential as embryonic stem cells to make every single cell in the body.
The HFEA said that its Licence Committee gave "careful consideration to the scientific, medical and ethical issues of the applications" and also "scrutinised the arrangements for obtaining informed consent from the people donating embryos to these projects."
It added that the research projects would be "subject to close monitoring and scrutiny".
The HFEA issued the licences following
a House of Lords report earlier this week, which agreed that embryonic
stem cell research should go ahead.
© 2002 Reuters Ltd