Scientist says pioneering human cloning experiment is vital for future of medicine

The scientist planning Britain's first human embryo cloning experiment has insisted it must be allowed for the sake of "the future of modern medicine".

The scientist planning Britain's first human embryo cloning experiment has insisted it must be allowed for the sake of "the future of modern medicine".

Five members of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) yesterday considered the country's first application for a licence to clone human embryos from adult stem cells.

If granted, the licence would allow a team led by Dr Miodrag Stojkovic from the Institute of Human Genetics at Newcastle University to grow specially-created embryos, using eggs donated by couples undergoing fertility treatment and skin cells from adults. It would produce stem cells that would be used to make insulin-producing cells for a new class of treatment for diabetes.

Dr Stojkovic said: "I will be very disappointed if our application is turned down because I believe this research holds out great promise for the future of modern medicine. I see no scientific reason why we should not progress with our work. I completely understand the ethical objections, but we are using eggs that are surplus to IVF treatment, which failed to be fertilised. Instead of being thrown away they have been donated for research. The way I think of it is, why put something in the rubbish bin when it can be used in such a valuable way?"

Stem cells are "master cells" that can become many different parts of the body. Those taken from embryos can be turned into any kind of replacement tissue, including bone, muscle, nerves and organs.

The key step would derive the stem cells from embryos that are clones of the patient being treated - meaning the new tissue will not be rejected. The stem cells are collected from embryos which are destroyed before they are 14 days old and never allowed to develop beyond a cluster of cells the size of a pinhead.

If it works, the technology holds the potential to grow new organs or even limbs, although such treatments would be decades away. But opponents say the procedure creates lives in order to kill them, and would improve technology to enable the cloning of babies.

As the HFEA pondered the question at its London offices, the debate raged outside.

Cloning to create duplicate human babies is outlawed in Britain but therapeutic cloning for medical research has been legal since 2002. However, no licences have yet been awarded by the HFEA, which oversees all embryo research.

But opponents said that improving the technology so that it could be used to treat disease would also allow its abuse by "maverick scientists".

Dr Donald Bruce, leader of the Church of Scotland's Society, Religion and Technology project, added that the proposed work was "too speculative for such an ethically sensitive area".

He quoted a 2001 House of Lords Select Committee report which concluded that the HFEA would need a quite exceptional reason to allow research involving cloned embryos.

"The information so far made public suggests this is not the case," said Dr Bruce. "It is a development of a long term research tool not the plugging of an vital and immediate missing link in medical research."

The application was supported by Britain's most prominent scientific organisation, the Royal Society. "It is clear that the licence can be granted if the research is considered to be necessary and desirable," said Professor Richard Gardner, the chair of the Royal Society working group on cloning and stem cell research.

The work, he said, could "bring closer the prospect of radical new stem cell treatments for a range of human diseases and disorders. There is a broad consensus among the world's scientific community that there should be a worldwide ban on human reproductive cloning, but that each country should make its own decisions about whether to allow therapeutic cloning."

The HFEA said that the five members would consider the legality of the proposed work along with scientists' reports on its value and whether the laboratory was up to the task. However, there is no deadline for the committee to report.

Originally from Yugoslavia, Dr Stojkovic worked on stem cells at the University of Munich, but was frustrated by the blanket ban on all forms of human cloning in Germany.

He also rejected the argument that his work might show others how to attempt reproductive cloning: hundreds of papers already describe the "nuclear transfer" cloning technique pioneered by British scientists to create Dolly the sheep, he noted. And earlier this year researchers in South Korea announced that they had produced the first human cloned embryos.

Dr Stojkovic pointed out that they only succeeded after more than 240 failed attempts, which indicated the difficulties involved in the work.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Administrator

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are a world leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Upholsterer

£9 - £15 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are seeking excellent indi...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Managed IT Services Provid...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral