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scientists and patients’ groups welcome new breakthrough in stem cell research

As scientists at King’s College, London, announce that they have successfully created the UK’s first human embryonic stem cell line, the Science Media Centre found scientists and patients’ groups to comment.

Alistair Kent, Director of the Genetic Interest Group, said:

“Doing research on embryos that cannot be implanted to give fresh hope to people with incurable diseases is much more ethical than allowing them to perish. I think the women who donate these early embryos making a fantastic gesture and should be applauded.”

Simon Festing, Director of Public Dialogue at the Association of Medical Research Charities, said:

“This is great news for all the families of people suffering from debilitating diseases like diabetes and Parkinson’s. Whilst there is still a along way to go, this is a clear endorsement of the Government’s policy to make the UK a world leader in stem cell research.”

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, Head of Developmental Genetics at the Medical Research Council’s National Institute for Medical Research, said:

“This is a very important breakthrough, not only for UK science but also for the way that embryo research is regulated in this country.

“While it is possible that the human ES cell line that has been obtained has the genetic disease, this will not matter for many research purposes. Indeed it would be beneficial for studies of this disease, and in attempts to find cures for it, as the properties of the cells can be investigated in culture.

“It has been over 4 years since the first human ES cell lines were made by Jamie Thomson in the USA, and researchers in a number of other countries have subsequently also managed to derive them. Some scientists had feared that the UK was falling behind, but we should be proud that it now has a regulatory system offering a reasonable degree of checks and balances – unlike many other countries where the work is either prohibited altogether, entirely un-regulated or an ethically bizarre mixture of the two (as in the USA and to some extent Germany).”

Professor Richard Gardner, Department of Zoology, Oxford, who was Chairman of the Royal Society working group that recommended (in March 2000) creating stem cell banks for research purposes, said:

“It is gratifying that the derivation of human embryonic stem cell lines has now been achieved in the UK since the relevant pioneering work on human IVF and on mouse embryonic stem cells was undertaken here. There is an urgent need for more properly validated lines that are made freely available to researchers if the therapeutic promise of embryonic stem cells is to be realized.”

Professor Sir George Radda, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, said:

“”This is an exciting day for UK science. Stem cells offer new hope for treatments, and even cures, for many common diseases but a huge amount of research is needed to understand how they work and how their potential could be harnessed.”

“The UK Stem Cell Bank has been set up to enable research in this revolutionary area of science to move forward and we hope to start banking lines this autumn. We have already had interest in banking foetal stem cell lines and it will be important to bank embryonic cell lines too.”

Dr David Dexter, Senior Lecturer in Pharmacology and Leader of the Parkinson’s disease research unit, Imperial College London, said:

“”This is exciting news. These developments will allow stem cell research to continue at a faster rate so that we can fully assess the potential use of stem cells in the treatment of disease.

“However, stem cells still face many hurdles before they can become a viable treatment for Parkinson’s disease. In particular, they face the same problems as with transplants of foetal cells. Although foetal cells can survive and produce dopamine in the Parkinson’s brain, they have failed to produce connections with the other brain cells. If stem cells have the same problem, then they will have very little clinical benefit for the patient.”

Professor Nick Wright, Head of Cancer Research UK’s Histopathology Unit, and a specialist in human stem cell research, said:

“Scientists need access to human embryonic stem cell lines for critical work in areas such as the repair and regeneration of tissues damaged through cancer and cancer treatment. While some such stem cell lines have been available in this country for some time, the identification and characterisation of this new line is a significant advance and will provide British scientists with an important new resource. I look forward to the line being deposited in the MRC Stem Cell Bank and being able to use it for my own unit’s research.”

Note for editors (1) The Genetic Interest Group is a national alliance representing individuals and families affected by genetic disorders. (2) The Association of Medical Research Charities aims to further medical research in the United Kingdom generally, and in particular, to advance the effectiveness of those charities of which a principal activity is medical research. (3) The National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) is the largest research establishment of the Medical Research Council and is devoted to fundamental biomedical research. (4) Also see the Parkinson’s Disease research unit of Imperial College London. (5) The Royal Society have a wealth of information about stem cells. (6) The Medical Research Council is a national organisation funded by the UK taxpayer. We promote research into all areas of medical and related science with the aims of improving the health and quality of life of the UK public and contributing to the wealth of the nation. (7) Cancer Research UK is the largest volunteer-supported cancer research organisation in the world.

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