Brussels, 14 Jun 2004
Scientists in the UK are hoping to receive approval from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority for a human cloning experiment after (HFEA) on account of its potential as a breakthrough in treating diseases.
Although the move to develop stem cells for diabetes patients has been hailed as a landmark in biological research by scientists, it has also sparked ethical questions among religious and anti-abortion groups.
Dr Miodrag Stojkovic, of Newcastle University, who is leading the team seeking the go-ahead to create the embryos, explained that he plans to perform the cloning of dozens of embryos using the same technique employed by the scientists who created Dolly the sheep in 1997.
'This is a great opportunity,' said Dr Miodrag Stojkovic, in an interview with the UK newspaper The Observer. 'We are focusing on diabetes, but believe our work could lead to cures for other diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Our intention is not to create cloned humans, but to save lives,' he said.
According to the Observer, the HFEA has already given its support to the research and is working with Newcastle University on a public announcement to be released next month.
'The idea of the project is to use cloned embryos to create insulin-producing cells that can be transplanted to people suffering from diabetes,' Professor Alison Murdoch of the Newcastle Centre for Life told The Observer. 'By using the DNA from the patient as part of the cloning process, this will insure the new tissue will not be rejected by them. The eggs that will be used to make the embryos will be donated with patients' consent.'
This controversial project, however, is likely to stir up protests. Conservative UK Member of Parliament Ann Widdecombe has already stated: 'this is the start of a slippery slope. It is unnecessary to use embryo stem cells when many scientists believe stem cells taken from adults could be used.'
While cloning human embryos for therapeutic reasons was made legal in the UK by an amendment to the Human Embryology Act, cloning humans for reproductive purposes remains illegal.