UK’s first stem cell line created

A group of scientists at King’s College London have announced the first successful attempt to grow embryonic stem cells in the UK.

The work involved growing a stem cell line from an embryo that was created for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). Such embryos can only be stored for five years before they must be destroyed, and the embryo in question was donated to science by the prospective parents after they finished their treatment.

Stem Cells have become the focus of medical research in recent years as they have the capacity to transform into any other type of cell. This leads scientists to believe that they could rapidly advance medicine.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has welcomed the achievement and Professor Sir George Radda, chief executive of the MRC, commented: ‘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 established to allow new strings to be made publicly available to industrialists and scientists. This is intended as a way of speeding research opportunities as there are only a small number of lines available in the world.

Plans are in place to start banking lines later this year so that scientists from across Europe can access a public resource while also being scrutinised for ethical practice and intentions.

Ethics is an increasingly important issue in the development of stem cell science as the cells themselves are derived from living tissue.

Some organisations have long campaigned against the use of embryonic stem cells under a pro-life banner, arguing that it requires the sacrifice of a human life, and that it is unnecessary when adult stem cells can be investigated.

Scientists, who believe that different strings can be derived from embryos, suggest these developments will advance treatment of illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease, and debate the view that such research is unnecessary.

As a result of ethical concerns the Government created the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to deal with this issue as well as others such as cloning, and granted it the power to refuse or grant permission for research on the basis of its ethics and possible social impact.

This has allowed scientists in the field a degree of freedom and legitimacy that they increasingly lack in many parts of the world, and this has helped the UK to play a leading role in modern medical research. This contrasts with practice in the USA where firms are concerned about the Government’s ban on research into new stem cell lines, brought in under pressure from anti abortion groups.