- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 11, 2004

LONDON — Britain granted its first license for human cloning yesterday, joining South Korea on the leading edge of stem-cell research, which is restricted in the United States by the Bush administration and which many scientists believe may lead to new treatments for a range of diseases.

The British license went to Newcastle University researchers who hope eventually to create insulin-producing cells that could be transplanted into diabetics.

South Korean scientists announced in February that they had cloned an embryo and extracted stem cells from it.

Many scientists think stem cells hold vast promise for treating an array of diseases from diabetes to Parkinson’s. Stem cells can potentially grow into any type of human tissue. Scientists hope to be able to direct the blank cells to grow into specific cell types needed for transplant.

Stem cells can be found in adults, but scientists think they may not be as versatile as those found in embryos. They envision using cloning to create an embryo from a patient so that stem cells extracted would be a perfect transplant match.

“Therapeutic cloning will in the immediate future be a vital tool in harnessing the power of stem cells to treat some of the major diseases which threaten humankind,” said John Harris, professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester, after the license was announced. “This decision is a signal of our society’s compassion and concern for those threatened by disease.”

Britain’s ProLife Party lamented the decision and said it was considering whether it could sue.

Regulations on cloning and stem-cell research vary worldwide. Britain is the only European country that licenses cloning for stem-cell research and three years ago was the first in the world to do so when Parliament voted to allow regulators to license the method for such research.

South Korea followed in December, and Sweden and Japan are expected to pass similar legislation soon.

This year, the United Nations will revisit the issue of whether to propose an international treaty to ban “therapeutic” cloning — which produces stem cells from cloned embryos — as well as “reproductive” cloning, which makes babies.

In the United States, where much of the pioneering work on stem cells was done, the issue is embroiled in political controversy.

The Bush administration forbids federal funding for research on embryonic stem-cell lines created after Aug. 9, 2001. It also forbids federal funding of all cloning research.

Many stem-cell scientists say the policy severely restricts research that could benefit millions of patients.

The rules do not apply to privately funded labs, but scientists working in such companies say money for the research has dried up since the controversy arose.

Several U.S. states prohibit any kind of embryo cloning, but a proposed federal ban is stuck on Capitol Hill.

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