Boost for German stem-cell research

February 15, 2002

Germany is to go ahead with pioneering human embryonic stem-cell research after parliament voted to allow the import of stem cells under strict conditions.

But Germany's main research funding organisation, the DFG, will release funds only for neurologist Oliver Bruestle's research, which aims to cultivate replacement tissue to treat brain diseases, once he has met the conditions of a new law - and this will not be in place until June at the earliest.

Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, DFG president, said it had bowed to parliament's wishes in agreeing the funding freeze. There are no restrictions on importing stem cells to Germany, although the law forbids research on human embryos and their creation, except for in-vitro fertilisation.

But, because of the subject's sensitivity and memories of the horrors perpetrated by Nazi science, researchers had agreed to put their work on ice until they had clear political backing for it.

The move, which allows for the possibility of existing human stem-cell lines harvested by a specific date to be imported from abroad, was backed by the chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder.

Bonn University's Professor Bruestle, whose funding application has already waited two years, said: "This is a positive signal for research. Up to now we have only been able to take a very limited part in international stem-cell projects."

But Professor Bruestle said that the proposed limitation to existing stem cells harvested by a certain date - yet to be agreed - was short sighted and that he did not see how it could be maintained.

"It cannot be ruled out that new cell lines will be produced in Britain or Sweden in the next few months that are higher quality. Then we will find ourselves in the paradoxical situation of having to fall back on first-generation cell lines," he said. Last year Professor Bruestle threatened to take his research abroad if it was halted or delayed for too long.

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