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Last Updated: Friday, 11 March, 2005, 11:58 GMT
From snakebites to stem cells

By Gareth Jones
BBC Wales business and industry correspondent

Sir Martin Evans gives his presentation on Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Sir Martin Evans says the angst over cloning is based on misconception
The 'Who's Who' entry for Professor Sir Martin Evans, Director of Cardiff University's School of Biosciences, is short but significant.

After the roll call of some major prizes - including the Albert Lasker (the American equivalent of the Nobel Prize for Medicine) - there is this: 'discovered embryonic stem cells, 1981.'

These words represent one of the most important medical breakthroughs in recent years.

Stem cells are the body's own basic building blocks capable of repairing internal damage.

They hold out the promise of banishing many diseases of old age, but because these cells have been harvested by research scientists from embryos and aborted foetuses, and also because of fears about human cloning, the subject's controversial.

Stem cells
Sir Martin: Stem cells are our resource for miracle cures and longer life

However, at the Bioscience Wales 2005 conference in Cardiff this week, Sir Martin told delegates that much of this anxiety was misplaced.

"There has been a lot of speculation about cloning, but the angst has outrun the medical and scientific realities and is based on misconception.

"I am not trying to undermine religious beliefs either, but the basic science is not in keeping with the scare stories."

Referring to recent news that experiments on animals had shown that stem cells could repair heart damage after a cardiac arrest, he said we need to see stem cells as simply the body's own resource for miracle cures and longer life.

Bioscience Wales, supported by the Welsh Development Agency, is an annual get-together of scientists and companies in this fast-growing sector.

'Growing sector'

One of the talking points in its opening session was this week's announcement that a cure had been found for type one diabetes.

Several delegates, including Dr Philip Gould of medical diagnostics firm Provalis, were keen to put this into context.

"Any news of an advance is welcome. But type one diabetes is just 10% of the problem. More than a million type two or late onset diabetes patients are unaffected by this and they are increasing in number - in the US by 10% per cent a year."

Deeside-based Provalis is currently enjoying huge success in the US with its diagnostic device for diabetes.

It currently employs 110 people but is likely to expand in line with the diabetes epidemic, which is being linked to increasing obesity. The World Health Organisation says diabetes is now a bigger killer than AIDS.

Currently there are more than 250 Bioscience organisations in Wales alone-including biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical companies.

The sector is growing at around 15% a year, making it one of the most important in the Welsh and UK economies. And it's quite diverse.

Over two days Bioscience Wales will hear from Welsh-based companies involved in everything from tele-medicine technology to making antidotes for rattlesnake bites.

09 Feb 99 |  Medical notes
Q&A: Diabetes transplant
09 Mar 05 |  Health
New network for stem cell studies
09 Mar 05 |  Cambridgeshire
Q&A: UK stem cell fund
07 Mar 05 |  Science/Nature



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