The UK's House of Lords has approved proposals that will allow scientists aiming to develop new disease treatments to carry out research on early human embryo cells. The upper house of parliament approved the changes to the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act by 212 votes to 92, a larger majority than many expected. Lord Alton's amendment, in which he called for the vote to be delayed following the report of a House of Lords select committee, was defeated. Instead, peers voted for a second amendment requesting that the legislation be passed, and reviewed in the light of the committee's findings.
The decision means that research into 'therapeutic cloning' - the use of cloned early embryo cells to create new body tissues - can now go ahead. 'I'm very relieved' said leading stem cell researcher Dr Austin Smith, of the Genome Research Centre at Edinburgh University. He hopes that such research will eventually lead to new treatments for illnesses such as Parkinson's disease and diabetes.
Any scientists who want to begin carrying out embryo stem cell research must first apply for permission to do so, from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). However, the HFEA has promised to await a High Court ruling on current legislation before it issues any licences. The recent legal challenge, brought by the ProLife Alliance, argues that the existing law does not rule out human cloning.
However, initial applications for embryo stem cell research projects are not likely to involve any cloning. 'I think scientists will want to try deriving stem cells from donated embryos first' said HFEA spokesman James Yeandel.