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UK at risk of losing lead in stem cell research

Britain's attempts to take stem cell research from the laboratory to the clinic are being undermined by government red tape and a lack of interest from City investors, according to experts meeting in London today.

Scientists behind Britain's dominant position in stem cell research said they are hampered by the number of regulatory authorities that have to be consulted and a lack of funding from the UK. Funds are more likely to come from the Middle East and America, with the risk that British innovations will go abroad, according to members of the UK National Stem Cell Network, which represents leaders in the field.

The risk of stem-cell breakthroughs being taken to the US will become more likely under Barack Obama, who has promised to prioritise stem cell science.

Professor Pete Coffey, a stem cell scientist at the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London, said his pioneering research into treating blindness was being funded by two US foundations. He is resisting pressure to take the project to California. "I can do it in the UK – slowly. If I took it to the US, I could accelerate it. I know of 16 projects in a similar position."

Professor John Sinden, chief executive of the research company ReNeuron, said his work in treating strokes with stem cells is being funded from Saudi Arabia due to a lack of interest here. There are four government bodies involved in regulating stem cell research, making it hard to negotiate the red tape required to reach clinical trials.