08-24-2002, 08:22 PM
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: New Brunswick, NJ, USA
Britain to get cloning factory within a year
Britain to get cloning factory within a year
Human embryo stem cells to be used for research
By Sarah-Kate Templeton Health Editor
The first human embryos could be cloned in the UK within a year, the head of Scotland's biotech industry has claimed.
The embryos will be cloned so that their cells can be removed to create new therapies to treat illnesses such as Parkinson's, diabetes and heart disease.
The cells will be deposited in the UK's national stem cell bank, details of which will be announced next month. Researchers and biotech companies worldwide will use stem cells from the bank to develop revolutionary new treatments.
Simon Best, chair of the BioIndustry Association in Scotland, said: 'What the establishment of the bank will encourage is applications to start making new stem cell lines. People have started to apply to use embryos that were available from IVF treatments. People are starting to make new [cell] lines but no one, as yet, has started to make new lines by cloning embryos. But people can apply and we will see people wanting to do that in the next year.'
The UK was the first country to legalise the cloning of em bryos for research but last year had to rush through legislation to prevent reproductive cloning.
Best said that although most of the stem cell lines deposited in the bank will be extracted from spare embryos left over from IVF treatments, they may not provide a genetic match for all ethnic groups.
' We are all different as individuals,' he said. 'Each of our cells and organs have a set of genes that govern our im mune system. What we are trying to do is create stem cell lines that roughly match, or match as close as we can make them.
'There may be certain subtypes that are unrepresented in the IVF populations ... IVF is only accessible to those who can afford to pay and that may limit the range of types available.
'One of the questions I am anticipating is to what extent can we rely on IVF to supply enough embryos and might we need to supplement their number by making a limited number of cloned embryos?'
Dr Robin Lovell-Badge, head of developmental genetics at the National Institute for Medical Research, added: 'Therapeutic cloning is an important option for the future. We do not know at this stage how closely tissues will need to be matched to prevent rejection and cure many of the diseases we are talking about because we have little or no experience in treating them. For some diseases, such as Parkinson's, it is likely that a close match is not necessary. However, for something like diabetes, current evidence suggests a very close match might be important. The best way to achieve this will be through either the use of adult stem cells isolated from the patient, if these can be made to work, or by therapeutic cloning.'
Last November the US biotech company Advanced Cell Technology was the first to announce that it had cloned human embryos. Since then a Chinese team has claimed that it has cloned around 30 human embryos .
But as the UK prepares to launch the world's first bank to store human stem cell lines (cultures of stem cells that are capable of copying themselves), leading ethicists warn that special consent will be required from patients if the embryos they donate are transformed into therapeutic products.
Brenda Almond, professor of moral and social philosophy at the University of Hull and a former member of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority , the government agency that regulates research on embryos, says people donating embryos or eggs that will be used to create stem cell lines should be informed that companies will make a financial profit from the process.
' When clever things have been done with the tissues then the firm that carries out all that work should get some reward. The donors might object to commercial use. That is something that people should be aware of and be free to consent to or not,' she said.
Lord David Alton, a crossbench peer who campaigns on pro-life issues, is anxious that therapeutic cloning is being driven by biotech companies keen to cash in on stem cell therapy.
'This is generated by biotech companies who want to be the first to patent these technologies. They see this as an investment for the future,' he said.
'Inevitably there are going to be lots of questions about donors having the right to know how stem cells and embryos might be used in the future. If this very unwelcome proposal is received there would be real concern about human embryos created to provide spare parts for surgery.'
Further details of the national stem cell bank are expected to be announced at a major conference on stem cell research on September 11. The government-funded Medical Research Council (MRC), which is setting up the bank, insists that sufficient regulation will be in place.
A spokeswoman said: 'The MRC has established a committee charged with developing principles and practice in relation to the ethical, legal and regulatory issues associated with stem cell research and banking. The committee is working to generate standard donor information leaflets and consent forms as well as route maps to help scientists identify which licences and accreditations they will need to undertake stem cell research and banking.'
She added that the national stem cell bank will be non- profit making , although researchers and companies who transform the stem cells into therapies will be able to patent the processes they use.
'The bank will be not for profit and be situated in an independent national facility. At present all human embryonic stem cell lines have been derived in other academic institutions and patents may apply to these lines. New cell lines or new technology would be patented in the usual way.'