Encouraged by recent cloning successes in South Korea, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder reportedly wants to ease restrictions on stem cell research in Germany.
Schröder's spokesman has denied plans to ease stem cell research
Currently nine teams of scientists in Germany are working with imported embryonic stem cells, the only kind of cloning research currently allowed in the country. But the chancellor wants to expand this and make it easier for scientists to clone for therapeutic purposes, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper reported on Friday, citing government circles.
The report coincides with the news that a team of South Korean scientists has developed the first lines of patient-specific embryonic stem cells, designed to give a precise DNA match.
A major scientific advance?
Human cell and ovum with nucleus removed
The research marks major strides in work aimed at making it possible one day to transplant healthy cells into humans to replace cells ravaged by illnesses such as Parkinson's and diabetes, said the researchers, whose work was published in the May 20 issue of Science.
A co-author on the study, Dr. Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine called the development "a major advance in the science of using stem cells to repair damage caused by human disease and injury."
"What the study shows is that stem cells can be made that are specific to patients regardless of age or sex and that these cells are identical genetic matches to the donor," Schatten said.
Dangerous process for reproduction?
The advance came from the same Korean researchers who produced the first line of stem cells from a human embryo at 5-10 days, which had been cloned.
Removing DNA from a human egg
In the new Korean research, 11 new lines of embryonic stem cells were created by transferring genetic material from a non-reproductive cell of a patient into a donated egg, or oocyte, from which the nucleus had been removed.
The Korean researchers said it took an average 17 eggs to make each stem cell line. They cautioned that such cloning for reproductive purposes would be dangerous and should not be attempted.
Swift change in Germany unlikely
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder receiving an honorary doctorate from Tongji University in Shanghai, China in 2002
In Germany, Schröder is expected to push for therapeutic cloning during a June 14 speech at the University of Göttingen, where he will receive an honorary doctorate.
But government spokesman Bela Anda said the chancellor was not going to signal a policy shift during the speech and instead reiterate his belief that a balance had to be struck between chances on the one hand and risks posed by stem cell research on the other.
Anda added that Schröder had already said in March that Germany's current policy should be reviewed in two years' time to see whether it made sense to stick to current regulations.
According to the newspaper report, the chancellor is working with cabinet members to move towards abolishing current limitations on stem cell research. Such a change is unlikely to take place any time soon, however, as the government does not plan to initiate a change in the law before the 2006 general election.