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Call to end EU funding of embryo research

17 October 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 330

A group of 73 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) has sent a letter to the commission president Manuel Barroso, calling for an end to EU funding of research using human embryonic stem cells (ES cells). The call followed the commission's unveiling of its draft priorities for the next round of research funding - the Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7).

Like the previous funding programme, the draft FP7 permits EU funding of ES research involving embryos left over from fertility treatments, donated with the explicit consent of the parents. All stem cell projects have to be approved on a case by case basis, and priority is given to research projects using adult stem cells. EU funding for research into human reproductive cloning or the creation of embryos for research is explicitly forbidden.

The laws on ES cell research vary widely throughout Europe, and the authors of the recent letter argue that Member States that do not permit the research should not have to share the cost of funding it elsewhere. The UK, which currently holds the presidency of the Council of the EU, has announced that it will redraft the FP7 proposal before it is next discussed at the end of November. It recognises that stem cell research is one area where a compromise will need to be reached.

Meanwhile, Newcastle University stem cell researcher Miodrag Stojkovic - who recently announced that he will be leaving the UK for a new position in Spain - has criticised the UK's research funding system. He told the Times Higher Educational Supplement that 'extreme frustration' with the UK's system and 'consequent uncoordinated and second-rate working conditions' lead to his decision to leave the country. He said that although there are plenty of excellent scientists working in the UK, 'all of them are very limited by the fact that they always have to apply for grants that are nothing compared to what is being spent elsewhere'.

Responding to Dr Stojkovic's comments, Michael Whitacker, dean of medical science at Newcastle University, said that although other countries are investing large sums of money in stem cell research, 'we are still a world leader, and the Government has realised that something needs to be done about funding'. The Department of Health has set up the UK Stem Cell Initiative, which, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, is considering increasing the British commitment to stem cell research by £10 million annually. The group is expected to report soon on what needs to be done to maintain the UK's leading position in this area of research.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Embryo developments
The Guardian |  11 October 2005
MEPs again call for end to EU funding for stem cell research
PHGU October 2005 Newsletter |  14 October 2005
Red tape has driven me out, says clone pioneer
The Daily Telegraph |  11 October 2005
UK Presidency to redraft the FP7 proposal
Euractiv |  12 October 2005
UK risks lead in stem cells, warns expert
THES |  14 October 2005
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