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Last Updated: Monday, 24 July 2006, 18:16 GMT 19:16 UK
EU to fund embryo cell research
Scientists carrying out embryonic stem cell research
Scientists say stem cells could cure degenerative conditions
Ministers from European Union member states have agreed to continue funding research on embryonic stem cells.

Some countries oppose the research, but scientists say the cells are the key to treating diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Last week US President George W Bush used his veto for the first time to limit federal funding for the research.

The EU ministers agreed not to fund activities that destroyed human embryos but said other research could continue.

We clarified what actually we do and we committed ourselves to continue in that direction also in the future
Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik

European Commissioner for Science and Research Janez Potocnik said the EU would not finance the "procurement" of embryonic stem cells - a process which results in the death of the embryo - but it would finance the "subsequent steps" to make use of the cells.

Stem cells are able to turn themselves into any other type of cell in the body, and it is hoped therefore that they can be used to repair parts of the body or develop new drugs.

Conserving life

The cells are removed from human embryos left over from fertility treatment and earmarked for disposal.

Five countries voted against the decision - Austria, Lithuania, Malta, Poland and Slovakia.

STEM CELL RESEARCH FUNDING
NOT KEEN:
Austria
Germany
Italy
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Poland
Slovakia
KEEN:
Belgium
Finland
France
Portugal
Spain
Sweden
UK
Germany, Italy and Slovenia were won over by the decision not to fund activities causing the destruction of embryos.

"We must conserve human life from its conception. We want no financial incentives to kill embryos," German Research Minister Annette Schavan had told fellow ministers earlier in the day.

Together the eight countries could have blocked adoption of the EU's 54bn euro (37bn) research budget for 2007-13, of which stem cell research forms a very small part.

Mr Potocnik said the agreement reflected the EU's existing practice, as no researchers planning to engage in procurement of stem cells had ever sought EU funds.

"We clarified what actually we do and we committed ourselves to continue in that direction also in the future," he said.

A spokeswoman for Europabio, which represents European biotech companies, said the industry was happy with the outcome

Adult cells

Some of the countries which oppose stem cell research are influenced by Roman Catholic teaching.

In Germany, memories are coloured by Nazi experiments during World War II.

HAVE YOUR SAY
If the EU bans funding for stem cell research, scientists will only seek funding from elsewhere
Rachel Parrott, Penarth, UK

Belgium, Spain, Sweden and the UK are among the most enthusiastic backers in Europe of stem cell research.

In practice, most European stem cell research is funded at national, rather than European level, and uses adult rather than embryonic stem cells.

"Really nothing has changed," said Irish Enterprise Minister Micheal Martin.

Portuguese Minister Jose Mariano Gago said: "We must avoid a situation where our scientists emigrate to other countries."

The European Parliament must agree to the ministers' compromise, but Mr Potocnik said he thought it would not be a problem.


SEE ALSO
Bush 'out of touch' on stem cells
20 Jul 06 |  Science/Nature
Bush uses veto on stem cell bill
19 Jul 06 |  Americas
US Senate approves stem cell bill
18 Jul 06 |  Americas
Q&A: The US debate over stem cells
20 May 05 |  Americas

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