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Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 09:59 GMT
Europe wrestles with stem cell issues
Stem cell researcher, AP
The issue of stem cell research is hugely controversial
The European Commission is holding a major conference on one of the most controversial areas of medical technology: stem cells.

The event, held in Brussels, is intended to provide a forum for politicians, ethicists and scientists to exchange views.

Delegates will include ministers, scientists, businesspeople and specialists in ethics.

Human embryo, AP
Stem cells could be used to treat incurable diseases
Stem cells can come from a variety of sources, but the most controversial is from human embryos - and some researchers want to be permitted to create embryo clones specifically to source stem cells.

Stem cells could in theory provide treatments for a vast range of human diseases, but opponents say some avenues of research - especially those requiring the creation of human embryos - are unethical.

The US has already refused federal funding for the creation of human embryos solely to provide stem cells, but has decided to allow research on a number of stem cell lines which already exist in laboratories.

In Europe, different governments have adopted different approaches.

Disease hopes

BBC Science Correspondent Richard Black says the conference is an important step in clarifying the position that European Union countries will eventually adopt.

He says research moves extremely fast in technologies such as stem cells and cloning, and it has been difficult for legislators to keep up with scientific developments.

The conference will hear details of how stem cells might treat people with Parkinson's disease and diabetes.

Experts on European law and ethics will describe what the current situation allows.

Calls for Europe to adopt liberal laws are expected from industry leaders.

The BBC's Ania Lichtarowicz
"The work is in its early stages"
See also:

30 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Breakthrough for stem cell research
10 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Bush backs stem cell research
19 Dec 00 | Sci/Tech
UK to extend embryo research
23 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Q&A: Therapeutic human cloning
17 Feb 01 | San Francisco
Stem cell hope for Parkinson's
07 Sep 00 | Festival of science
Stem cell injection for stroke on the way
19 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Stem cells promise liver repair
02 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Stem cells grown from dead bodies
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