February 22, 2024

UK scientists given green light to clone embryos

The research centre at the University of Newcastle which will clone embryos

Scientists at the University of Newcastle have been given permission by the UK’s fertility regulator to clone human embryos for medical research. The university’s stem cell group applied in May for a licence, which has been granted for one year. Professor Alison Murdoch, a member of the research team, says that clinical trials for possible therapies are still five to ten years away. More rapid progress could be made with more funding and the researchers are seeking partners from the private sector.

The scientists will use eggs left over from IVF treatment. They plan to focus on creating insulin-producing cells which can be transplanted into diabetic patients.

News of the decision was greeted with dismay by sceptics of therapeutic cloning. “[This] involves the manufacture of a new kind of human being, one generated without parentage in the normal sense, with the express purpose of destroying that life once stem cells have been ripped from it,” said Professor Jack Scarisbrick, of the group Life. “It is the manipulation, exploitation and trivialisation of human life of a most frightening kind.”

Elsewhere in Europe, therapeutic cloning remains controversial. In Germany, the president of the German Medical Association, J?rg-Dietrich Hoppe, called for a complete ban on all forms of embryo cloning. “We can’t allow embryos to be harvested like raw materials,” he said. The chairman of the Bundestag’s bioethics commission called the decision a “catastrophe”, a sentiment echoed by the major political parties, including the Greens.

The first cloned human embryos were created earlier this year, by Professor Hwang Woo-suk, of Seoul National University. According to the Korea Times, he recently turned down an offer of US$866 million in funding to work at a “renowned US research institute”.