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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 December 2005, 22:51 GMT
'Give stem cells to ill patients'
Cloned human embryos
Stem cells could be used to treat a number of human diseases
The scientist behind the cloning of Dolly the Sheep is calling for stem cell treatment to be offered to people with terminal illnesses.

Professor Ian Wilmut told The Scotsman that the treatment, which had not been fully tested, could save lives or at least speed up the pace of research.

He said he knew patients prepared to take part in such trials.

"If we wait until things are totally tested and analysed in animals, it will deny some people treatment," he said.

'Slow decline'

Stem cells - the body's master cells - are able to grow indefinitely, producing "daughter" cells that can form different tissues.

The cells and their derivatives could enable the discovery of new drugs for the prevention of inherited diseases such as motor neurone disease and cancer.

In the longer term, scientists say, they could treat disorders such as liver disease, Parkinson's Disease, diabetes and spinal cord injury by directly replacing damaged cells.

The head of the Institute of Human Genetics at Newcastle University, Professor John Burn, told BBC Radio Five Live that Prof Wilmut's suggestion could be popular among people suffering from serious diseases.

"If you've developed a treatment that might be beneficial in, say, motor neurone disease, then it's reasonable to allow people who are in the last stage of the disease to offer themselves.

"It sounds like they're being used as guinea pigs but sometimes people with a terminal illness volunteer to be used as guinea pigs if it will advance medical treatment for others," he said.

New funding

Professor Wilmut, appointed this month as the first director of Edinburgh University's new Centre for Regenerative Medicine, agreed that some patients would be keen to participate.

"I've come across people who have neuro-degenerative disease who face a steady, slow decline and premature death, a very unpleasant situation.

If we wait until all the tests have been done, some patients will have passed away
Prof Ian Wilmut
"Imagine you've got motor neurone disease and you've got no movement below your neck. You hear reports of benefits from stem cells in news reports, on the internet. That person would be very enthusiastic."

He said the benefits of using such treatments before they had been properly tested might outweigh the risks.

"If we wait until all the tests have been done, some patients will have passed away."

The new centre of which Prof Wilmut is head aims to use stem cell research to develop treatments for human diseases.

His appointment followed a 50m award from the government to fund stem cell science over the next two years.

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