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EU stem cell laws could inhibit research

7 March 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 298

European scientists who want to work on human embryonic stem cells (ES) may feel inhibited by laws in their own countries that ban such research, even if they are working elsewhere. The problems arising from the diverse range of regulations governing stem cell research in Europe were raised in a recent meeting of the Eurostem project, reported by the Daily Telegraph last week. This initiative, coordinated by John Harris of the University of Manchester, is seeking to draw up an ethical framework that will address these issues.

In the UK, scientists are permitted to carry out research on stem cells derived from human embryos. 'Therapeutic cloning' - the proposed use of cloned embryo stem cells to develop genetically-matched cell therapies - is also permitted. Earlier this year, scientists at the Roslin Institute received a licence allowing them to clone embryos for research into motor neurone disease. They are the second group in the UK to be given permission to carry out such work - in August last year, a team at Newcastle University received a licence to derive cloned embryo stem cells for diabetes research. However, therapeutic cloning research is banned in many other European Union (EU) countries, including France and Germany.

The laws governing embryo stem cell research vary widely throughout the EU, with some countries banning all research on human embryos, while others permit research on embryos left over from fertility treatment, but not the creation of embryos for research. According to Harris, these different regulatory approaches have created 'a headache' for the EU. 'Whether a French or German scientist would be prosecuted if they came to work here is doubtful but there is no doubt that scientists feel inhibited by this', he said. Harris said that this situation is 'inhibiting the European ideal, the free movement of citizens, workers and knowledge'.

The Eurostem project partners have drawn up a draft ethical framework, which recommends that scientists should not be criminalised for legal activity in one country, even if it is illegal in another, nor should they face discrimination or restriction.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
EU minefield for stem cell researchers
The Daily Telegraph |  2 March 2005
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