Iran at forefront of stem cell research

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Despite Iran's conservative Islamic rule, there is broad government approval for embryonic stem cell research, which Muslim clerics say is permissible under Islamic law. Shi'ite Muslim scholars believe that the fetus is given a soul at 120 days, before which abortion is permissible when there is a physical or emotional threat to the mother - thus avoiding the abortion debates common in the United States.

Ayatollah Khamenei often cites the Koran's emphasis on preventing human illness and suffering as evidence that stem cell research and Islam are compatible. Limits do exist: Iran's supreme leader has warned Iranian scientists to be careful that producing identical parts of human beings does not lead to producing a human being, as human cloning is not accepted - a policy shared by the Obama administration.

Although Iran's progress has been noteworthy, political unrest between Iran and the West has been an impediment. Sanctions directed against Iran's nuclear and missile programs have lessened the availability of other scientific supplies and equipment primarily manufactured in the U.S. Many Iranian scientists depend on the black market to acquire the equipment necessary for common scientific practices, though at a higher cost.

Mr. Khademhosseini said that despite these problems, he is optimistic about the future. Iranian “research is improving; there is support from the general public, as well as the government. It definitely looks bright.”

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