The first two licences allowing scientists to use stem cells from human embryos to study possible new treatments for serious illnesses have been awarded by Britain's fertility watchdog.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said yesterday that studies will begin at the Centre for Genome Research at Edinburgh University and at Guy's Hospital, which is part of King's College London.
The Edinburgh group, led by Austin Smith, will use embryonic stem cells from spare IVF embryos to develop treatments for disorders such as Parkinson's disease, while the scientists at Guy's will research the causes of infertility and miscarriage, as well as stem cells' possible role in nerve disorders and heart disease. Both groups will use only spare test-tube embryos less than 14 days old, which would otherwise be destroyed.
They will aim to establish lines of embryonic stem cells that they will deposit in a national stem cell bank. Regulations passed last year enabled scientists to use embryonic stem cells for purposes other than fertility and reproduction
Newcastle University's Centre for Life has also been granted a licence to work on stem cells from spare IVF embryos for research into fertility.