Experimentation on Embryos to Continue Despite 'Adult' Stem Cell Breakthrough
By Patrick Goodenough International Editor
March 28, 2005

( - Australian scientists will be allowed to harvest stem cells from human embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment despite recent breakthroughs in research using alternative and non-controversial sources for the cells.

For the past three years, a moratorium has been in place, preventing the use of IVF embryos for the experimentation, which researchers hope will in time produce cures for debilitating diseases.

Pro-lifers oppose the work, which results in the destruction of the embryos.

With the three years drawing to a close, Prime Minister John Howard had indicated that he wanted to extend the moratorium by another year.

But after failing to reach agreement on the matter with individual state governments -- which generally support the research and have passed their own laws -- Howard dropped the plan.

An end to the moratorium means that scientists will be permitted to use embryos created after April 2002 for the research. Only embryos created in the course of IVF treatment, and unwanted by their parents, may be used.

Stem cells are the "building blocks" of all tissue, with the potential to grow into nerve, muscle, liver and other cells.

The cloning of embryos for their stem cells is currently banned in Australia, but the ban comes up for review later this year, and a tough battle is expected between scientists and patient lobby groups on one hand and pro-lifers and churches on the other.