Green light. Israel and Australia may approve research on human embryonic stem cells.

Australia, Israel to Use Stem Cells

Two countries at the forefront of work on human embryonic stem (ES) cells, Australia and Israel, have just recommended policies to ease the way for their researchers.

After 2 years of deliberation, an Australian government committee has endorsed legislation that would allow both ES cell research and the derivation of the cells from unwanted embryos created during fertility treatments. The 10-member committee also called for a national licensing body to monitor and regulate all such research. Although the parliamentarians condemned reproductive cloning, they left open the door to the creation of embryos as a source of genetically matched ES cells--so-called therapeutic cloning--by calling for a 3-year moratorium on the practice. The Australian government is expected to seek legislation to implement the recommendations.

Stem cell workers welcome the report, says Martin Pera of the Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development in Melbourne. Currently, scientists face a jumble of legislation that varies among state and territorial jurisdictions. For instance, Pera and his Monash colleagues derive ES cells in Singapore because it is illegal to do so in the state of Victoria. "This report finally provides a clear framework for Australian scientists," he notes.

In Israel, a national bioethics committee has approved both the derivation of ES cells and research into therapeutic cloning. The report, issued by the Bioethics Advisory Committee of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities on 4 September, does not have the force of law, says committee member and molecular biologist Hermona Soreq of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but she expects the national science funding agency to follow its recommendations.

This report lends important formal support for Israel's existing policy, which permits the derivation of ES cell lines, says Nissim Benvenisty, an ES cell researcher at Hebrew University.

Both policies stand in stark contrast to restrictive conditions imposed on U.S. researchers. On 9 August, President George W. Bush announced that federally funded scientists could obtain ES cells only from existing cell lines (ScienceNOW, [http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2001/810/3] 10 August); shortly before, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would ban cloning for research purposes.

--LEIGH DAYTON and GRETCHEN VOGEL

Posted in Policy