The decision is likely to reignite an ethical debate on human
therapeutic cloning as opponents fear it could be used to clone
babies, which is outlawed in Britain. In a procedure based on
the same technique that created Dolly, the first cloned sheep,
the scientists will create embryos as a source of stem cells to
help develop new treatments for diabetes and degenerative
diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and potentially
find a way to regenerate nerve growth when the spinal cord has
They will duplicate early-stage embryos and extract stem
cells from them. The embryos will be destroyed before they are
14 days old and will never be allowed to develop beyond a
cluster of cells the size of a pinhead. "This research should
give valuable insight into the development of many diseases and
benefit millions of patients," Dr Miodrag Stojkovic, a member of
the team at Newcastle University in northern England, told
Reuters on Tuesday. "It's not about cloning babies.
"To my knowledge this is the first time in Europe that such a
licence has been granted," he added.
Earlier this year, scientists in
South Korea announced
that they had produced the first human cloned embryos.
FIVE YEARS BEFORE TREATMENT:
Stojkovic said it would be at least five years before patients
could receive stem cell treatment based on their work. Stem
cells are master cells of the body that can develop into other
cell types. The cloning technique involves removing the nucleus
of a human egg cell and replacing it with the nucleus from a
human body cell, such as a skin cell.
Britain legalised therapeutic cloning in 2001, under licence
from its reproductive regulator, the Human Fertilisation and
Embryology Authority (HFEA). It is backed by medical charities
but pro-life groups are opposed to the technique, arguing that
it creates human life with the purpose of destroying it once the
research is completed.
"Cloning involves the manufacture of a new kind of human
being...with the express purpose of destroying it once its stem
cells are removed," said Professor Jack Scarisbrick, chairman of
the group Life.
"It is the manipulation, exploitation and trivialisation of
human life of a most frightening kind," he said.
HFEA chairwoman Suzi Leather said the regulator had given
careful consideration to all the scientific, ethical, legal and
medical aspects of the project. "This is an important area of
research and a responsible use of technology," Leather said.
Scientists welcomed the decision, saying it was a major step
in allowing medical researchers to understand and cure diseases.
"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 that threaten humankind," said John Harris,
professor of bioethics at Manchester University.