Brussels, 02 Nov 2004
The Spanish government has approved a series of measures to allow research on embryonic stem cells.
At a press conference on 29 October, Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega and Health Minister Elena Salgado announced that scientists will be allowed to carry out research on frozen embryos that have been created for fertility treatment.
'It is not ethical to place obstacles and difficulties in the way of scientists who are using their talent and knowledge to improve our capacity to treat illness,' said Ms Fernandez de la Vega.
'This is excellent news for researchers of course [...] and also for parents who at the moment have embryos conserved in a fertility clinic and cannot find a purpose that could be socially useful for them, that could help other people,' added Ms Salgado. 'Now they have that chance.'
In July 2003, the former government passed a law authorising stem cell research on embryos but imposed many restrictions. The necessary steps to put the law into effect were, however, not taken.
The new law will allow research on embryos which have already been created for fertility treatments, and which were then frozen as they were not needed. The embryos will have to be more than five years old. Parents who give their consent for the embryos to be used for research will sign an informed consent form granting permission for a specific research project. They will not be allowed to benefit financially and will have no rights to possible subsequent patents.
Embryo research will be coordinated by a commission, headed by the director of the Health Institute Carlos III, which will study each case individually. 'That way,' explained Ms Salgado, 'it is guaranteed that uniform and homogenous criteria are applied for the trials.'
The Spanish government hopes to dedicate 100 million euro over the next four years to regenerative medicine.
Although the Spanish government made it clear that it believes reproductive cloning is 'an attempt against human dignity', Ms Salgado stated that when the government approves a new biomedical research law in 2005, 'therapeutic cloning may be included if that is the feeling of society.'
Spain will initially have two centres of research, one in Catalonia specialising in regenerative medicine, and a stem cell bank in Granada. It is estimated that the stem cell bank currently holds some 100,000 embryos that can be used for scientific research.