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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 07:07 GMT
Embryo research licences granted
Stem cell Geron
Two groups have been granted research licences
Licences to experiment on human embryos for purposes other than the investigation of infertility have been granted in the UK for the first time.

A group at Edinburgh University looking for a treatment for Parkinson's Disease and a team at Guy's Hospital in London, investigating neural disorders, infertility and miscarriages, have had their applications approved.

Christopher Reeve
Christopher Reeve: Welcomed Lords' decision
This follows a House of Lords report earlier this week that agreed controversial stem cell research should go ahead.

The applications approved by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) are for basic research to develop techniques to handle embryonic material.

The clinics will only produce stem cell "lines" from "spare" embryos created for IVF treatment, according to the HFEA. In the longer term, researchers may wish to create human embryo clones to understand how they develop.

The Centre for Genome Research at Edinburgh University aims to increase knowledge of embryo development and to develop treatment for ailments such as Parkinson's Disease, said the HFEA.

Ethical issues

At Guy's Hospital, the project will not only aim to find treatments for infertility and miscarriages, but will also deposit samples in the stem cell bank to develop treatments for neural and pancreatic diseases.

An HFEA spokesman said its licence committee gave "careful consideration to the scientific, medical and ethical issues of the applications".

It said the licences were granted with conditions that specified measures that had to be put in place when carrying out the stem cell work.

The decision by the House of Lords select committee allows research to start on both adult and embryo stem cells.

Supporters of the research believe it will be vital to find ways of regenerating tissues such as nerves, muscle and cartilage to treat the elderly and disabled.

But anti-abortion campaigners believe equally effective treatments could be developed using adult cells.

The decision was welcomed by paralysed actor Christopher Reeve, who last week told the BBC he would come to the UK for treatment if it was developed in Britain.

The BBC's Pallab Ghosh
"Talk of overcoming paralysis raises false hopes"
Professor Austin Smith, University of Edinburgh
"We will not be cloning embryos"
Prof Peter Braude of Guy's and St Thomas' hospitals
"There is still an awful lot of basic research still to be done on stemcells"
See also:

27 Feb 02 | Sci/Tech
Researchers welcome cloning decision
18 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Court approves cloning challenge
29 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Human cloning ban 'to become law'
27 Feb 02 | Sci/Tech
Lords back cloning research
27 Feb 02 | Sci/Tech
The cloning debate
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