Tuesday, December 8, 1998 Published at 07:29 GMT
Human spare-part cloning set for approval
Cloning is the key, stem cells are vital to "growing" new tissue
The proposal is made in a joint report from the Human Genetics Advisory Commission (HGAC) and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The Health Department said it will respond early next year.
The report comes after a four-member panel of scientists was asked in January to advise on the legal and ethical aspects of cloning after the creation of Dolly the sheep.
The UK panel says that while cloning human beings should be banned outright, the same rigid rule should not apply to the use of early-stage embryos for research.
Ultimately, the use of cloning and stem cell technologies could lead to the growth of replacement tissue in laboratories, which would avoid all the usual transplant problems of rejection.
Many scientists foresee a day when brain cells are harvested to replace those lost through degenerative disorders such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. They also anticipate the production of muscle tissue and perhaps even whole organs.
But the key to such breakthroughs is cloning - producing copies of early-stage embryos from which stem cells can be taken.
Research of the sort being conducted in the United States is not allowed in Britain at present. Under the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, embryos less than 14 days old may only be used for research in certain very strictly defined purposes.
The HGAC Chairman, Sir Colin Campbell, said: "Cell nucleus replacement techniques might be helpful with research into and eventually treatment of serious conditions such as Parkinson's, Huntingdon's, Alzheimer's and various types of cancer.
"Although such applications are still some years away, we believe that it would not be right at this stage to rule out limited research using such techniques, which could be of great benefit to seriously-ill people."
The joint HGAC/HFEA Cloning Working Group report advises the government to introduce legislation explicitly banning human reproductive cloning.
This would effectively separate the issue of reproductive whole-body cloning from "therapeutic cloning" as part of the search for new medical treatments.
The report also recommends that Health Secretary Frank Dobson consider changing the regulations so that the HFEA can issue licences for the "development of therapeutic treatments for diseased or damaged tissues or organs".
The report took into account a consultation exercise held between January and April this year.
More than 1,000 copies of a document outlining the proposals were issued and it was also posted on the HGAC's Website.
Sir Colin said: "Response to the consultation was conclusive. It is quite clear that human reproductive cloning is unacceptable to a substantial majority of the population.
"A total ban on its use for any purpose is the obvious and straightforward way of recognising this."
Nonetheless, opponents of embryo research and cloning have been quick to condemn the report. Dr Patrick Dixon, author of the book Futurewise, which warns of the dangers of unrestrained research, said: "This is the perfect Christmas present for those who want to press ahead with human cloning.
"They will be able to use British technology to steam ahead towards the day when human clones become a reality."