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British science watchdog welcomes cloning advance

Head of the British body in charge of monitoring developments in human fertility and embryology has welcomed news that S Korean scientists have created cloned human embryos to generate stem cells.

tech reviews Updated: Feb 12, 2004 20:33 IST

The head of the British body in charge of monitoring developments in human fertility and embryology on Thursday welcomed news that South Korean scientists have created cloned human embryos to generate potentially disease-treating stem cells.

Suzi Leather, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said the public should not be worried about the announcement of the world first by a team of researchers from Seoul National University.

"I think it's a very exciting announcement from a reputable group in South Korea," Leather said.

"They're not trying to create a cloned baby and have set their face against trying to do that," she explained.

"It's an important step in the development of new therapies so that patients can look forward to having transplants of cells exactly matched with their needs.

"The treatments themselves are obviously going to take many years to develop—this is not just around the corner for the NHS (National Health Service)—but the results are very promising."

The stem cell technology is intended to create material that could one day treat diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's and other disorders, and not to make a cloned child, scientists say.

They hope that one day stem cells can be used to grow replacement tissue such as brain cells, skin, liver, or a kidney, that could be used for human transplants.

Britain has played an important role in cloning technology, with its scientists having created Dolly the sheep, the world's first mammal cloned from an adult cell.

Dolly's birth in July 1996 from the breast cell of a six-year-old adult ewe made scientific history but her death at six years old, compared with the usual sheep's lifespan of up to 12 years, only fuelled concerns over cloning.

Two years ago British scientists were given the go-ahead to clone human embryos for stem cell research, although a parliamentary committee on the issue said this should be allowed only under strict regulation.

The results of the South Korean study were published online by the US journal Science ahead of a meeting in Seattle of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).