BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union ministers will agree to a deal on Monday to stop a row over using embryos for stem cell research that is threatening to derail the bloc's entire research funding, EU officials said on Friday.
The row blew up last month when Italy, Ireland, Germany and Austria pulled the plug on EU stem cell research funding because of ethical worries about using embryos as a source of cells.
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) said ministers had already agreed to the research guidelines and promised not to amend them. MEPs threatened to block the EU's whole five-year 17.5 billion euro research budget, which will finance European laboratories from 2002 to 2006.
But an EU official said both sides were now ready to agree on a compromise, letting existing projects continue but blocking funding for new stem cell research for at least one year.
Stem cells removed from embryos have the potential to turn into any type of cell in the body, giving scientists new techniques for skin grafts and bone marrow transplants and, potentially, a way of repairing damaged brain tissue.
Italy was expected to vote against the compromise on Monday, but would not be able to block the deal.
But lawmakers would still have to pick their way through an ethical minefield to prevent the delicate deal from unraveling and throwing around 14,000 projects into doubt.
"All of these are risks we are willing to take to make sure that (research funding) is up and running before January 1, 2003," the official said.
Stem cell research makes up a tiny proportion of the European Union's
research budget. Its current budget includes 27 million euros for 15 stem
cell research projects.
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