'What was once only a theoretical possibility we now know can happen'

May 27, 2005

Alison Murdoch believes the breakthrough in human cloning made by her team at Newcastle University will give fresh impetus to UK academics in related fields

Alison Murdoch is co-director of the team at Newcastle University that last Friday announced it had cloned a human embryo as part of its research into new treatments for diabetes. Embryos contain stem cells, which can develop into any part of the human body.

The stem-cell research community in the UK is a tight-knit group, but there are many academics working in related fields who will be encouraged by the news, Professor Murdoch said. "There are lots of people working on adult stem cells. It is all similar work in practice," she said.

The Newcastle team was pipped at the post by scientists from South Korea who revealed that they had gone a stage further by creating stem cells tailored to patients with specific medical conditions.

But Professor Murdoch, director of the Newcastle Fertility Centre at Life - an independent trust supported by Newcastle University and the Newcastle NHS Hospital Trust - said that her team's advance was still encouraging as it showed it was heading in the same direction.

Last year, her group became the first in Europe to be allowed to clone human embryos for research. She told The Times Higher : "When people talked about human cloning a few years ago it was only a possibility. What our results show is that it does work." Though, she said, it did not work in every case. "It means that what was once only a theoretical possibility we now know can happen - it's just a question of perfecting the techniques."

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