Blind World


August 12, 2004.

By Lorraine Fisher,

SCIENTISTS given the go-ahead yesterday to start cloning human embryos for medical research said: "Now it's all systems go."

The pioneers - seeking cures for conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and some forms of blindness - aim to get to work "within a week or two".

Prof Alison Murdoch said: "We're absolutely thrilled. The laboratories are set up and the people are in place to do this."

The professor - based at Newcastle University's Centre for Life and working with genetics expert Dr Miodrag Stojkovic - was speaking after her team won the first British licence for the controversial work.

The decision by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) - which recently approved similar research to aid sick children - brought furious opposition from pro-life campaigners.

Professor Jack Scarisbrick, of the pressure group Life, said: "It's deplorable - something we should be ashamed of. The end does not justify the means.

"It's Frankensteinian...the pressure to have clones born will be irresistible now." Such baby-cloning is banned here, but therapeutic cloning was legalised in 2001.

The Government, science and medicine are strongly in favour.

It involves removing the nucleus of an egg cell and implant-ing the nucleus from a body cell, such as skin.

The egg is then artificially stimulated. This causes it to divide and an embryo is created from which a stem cell is taken. The embryo is then destroyed while smaller than a pin-head.

The stem cell - building block of human life - can be grown into any organ, bone or body part. South Korea is the only country to clone a human embryo, after 280 attempts.

The Newcastle research will use eggs left over from IVF treatment. They will be donated by couples and otherwise would have been destroyed. Prof Murdoch said: "We'll start just about straightaway, as soon as we can get patients in who'll volunteer to give us their unfertilised eggs."

They will investigate creating insulin-producing cells that can be transplanted into diabetic patients.

If the lab tests succeed, it will still be some time before clinical trials can start. But Prof Murdoch said: "We need to be optimistic. There could be a potential cure for diabetes in five to 10 years."

Explaining possible treatment, she said: "If you have one of these debilitating diseases, we take a small piece of skin from you, take a tiny cell and reprogramme that cell to be the sort you need to cure your disease, such as a nerve cell. Then we can inject that back into you."

HFEA chief Suzi Leather said of the one-year licence approval: "This is an important area of research and a responsible use of technology."

Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, of the National Institute for Medical Research, said: "It should allow us to study genetic disease without having to use humans as guinea pigs, or indeed, guinea pigs as humans."

Opponent Dr David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, said: "It is cruelly raising people's hopes and crosses important ethical lines."

End of article.

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