Scientists hoping to use European Union (E.U.) funds to derive new human embryonic stem cell lines got good news today. In a proposal released this morning, the E.U.'s policy-making body, the European Commission, outlined rules that would allow funds from the E.U.'s research program to support derivation of cell lines from embryos left over after fertility treatments. Opposition from several member countries could still derail the plan, however.
Scientists want to use human embryonic stem (ES) cells to study and possibly treat a wide range of diseases, but these cells are controversial because they are derived from week-old human embryos. Several countries in the E.U., including Germany and Ireland, have laws that forbid the derivation of new ES cell lines. But other members such as Sweden and the United Kingdom allow researchers to derive human ES cells according to certain guidelines.
Disagreements over human embryo research threatened to block the entire $20 billion Framework 6 research program last fall. In a compromise, leaders agreed that the program would not fund any embryo research until the beginning of 2004, to allow extra time for working out a final policy. But the intervening months have not softened the divisions. Germany's science and education ministry responded to today's proposal saying it would continue to push for a policy that is in line with German laws--which prohibit any destruction of human embryos.
The council of ministers, with representatives from the governments of all member countries, will have the final say on the policy by the end of the year. A supermajority must approve the rules, which means that no-votes from as few as four of the 15 member countries could scuttle the commission's proposal.
Full text of the commission proposal