The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has published a discussion paper recommending changes in UK regulations, which would allow research into stem cells derived from embryos. It also recommended lifting the ban on research into therapeutic cloning - the potential treatment of human diseases using tissues derived from cloned early embryos.
Embryo stem cell research would require a change in Schedule two of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990. Under the Act, embryo research is currently permitted only if it is concerned with infertility, miscarriage, contraception or congenital disease. The ethics council recommends that this is amended to include research 'for the purpose of developing tissues to treat diseases from derived embryonic stem cells (ES cells)'. It added that 'there are no compelling reasons' to allow the creation of additional embryos for such work, as long as there are sufficient donated embryos from IVF treatment.
The paper also says that the creation of embryos using nuclear transfer (therapeutic cloning) should be licensed, as it offers such 'significant potential medical benefits'. It ruled out reproductive cloning, saying it would be unacceptable for any such embryo to be placed in a uterus and allowed to develop.
The UK government is currently awaiting the findings of an expert panel on therapeutic cloning, led by Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson. The report is expected to recommend that therapeutic cloning research is given the go-ahead, according to an article in the Daily Telegraph last week. 'It is too early to say whether it will work, but if the research is illegal we will never know', one member of the panel told the newspaper. But a Department of Health spokesman refused to confirm or deny the story, and told the BBC that the report had yet to be finished.