Scientists urge nations to allow therapeutic human cloning for stem-cell research

An international group of scientists on Wednesday urged nations to allow some human cloning for stem-cell research - but not for reproduction - saying a blanket cloning ban could set back efforts to develop new medical treatments.

The recommendations by the Human Genome Organization's ethics panel touted stem cells as effective in bone marrow transplants and said they offer the potential to treat disorders and illnesses such as diabetes and Parkinson's disease.

Ruth Chadwick, a professor of bioethics at Britain's Lancaster University, said the panel endorsed therapeutic cloning, which involves making stem cells from week-old human embryos. It also asked that nations avoid restricting researchers to "spare" embryos created for fertility treatments because such embryos are frozen and often damaged when thawed.

However, the panel acknowledged that harvesting organs and other parts from made-to-order humans was "regarded as unacceptable."

"It's more important that there's good regulation rather than prohibition of particular areas of research. Prohibition undermines progress and the potential for humanitarian benefit," Chadwick told reporters at the group's annual meeting of the world's top geneticists in Japan's western city of Kyoto.

That stance contrasts with a U.N. resolution approved last month that urges member nations to outlaw all human cloning. Although most nations oppose reproductive cloning, the United States and some others are also against therapeutic cloning, in which DNA from a cell nucleus is inserted into an unfertilized human egg. The DNA instructs the egg to develop into an embryo.

Chadwick said the recommendations were made "in the light of rapid progress being made" in stem-cell research since 1999, when the panel issued its last statement on stem cells.

The three-page statement criticized some nations for "allowing use of embryos produced only before an arbitrary timeline or... outlawing government funded research but granting private bodies free reign" - an oblique reference to U.S. President George W. Bush's 2001 decision to limit federal financing of stem cell research.

Separately, researchers from Japan, South Korea, Singapore, China, Taiwan and Australia agreed this week to boost collaboration on stem cell research and discussed the possibility of freely providing cells to each other, according to Norio Nakatsuji, a Kyoto University geneticist who has produced Japan's only government-approved human embryonic stem cells.

"An international collaborative effort is essential if we are to succeed and key groups in the Asia-Pacific region are leading the effort," said Martin Pera, a researcher at Australia's Monash University.

Stem cells are unformed cells in the body that can grow into bone, muscle and other tissues. They are found in adult bone marrow and fat as well as in embryos and fetuses. Though stem cells are more abundant - and thought to be more flexible - in embryos and fetuses, some nations oppose destroying embryos for their cells.

KENJI HALL, Associated Press Writer

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