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Stem cell research: The new medicine of the future

While the federal government ponders the ethical implications of therapeutic cloning, California is blazing a trail to the future. The Golden State has caught the attention of stem-cell scientists across the world as it takes its first steps toward becoming, thanks to Proposition 71, a destination of choice for stem-cell research, with government support to the tune of $3 billion.

Questions about the ethics of using embryonic stem cells for disease research have threatened to slow progress in many countries, including the United States. But while the Bush administration has enacted limits on federal funds for research using embryonic stem cells and U.S. policymakers struggle to find a balance between seemingly irreconcilable points of view, the United Kingdom moves steadily toward a future in which tissue reengineering may become as commonplace as the tetanus booster. It's an experience the United States should learn from.

The key in the United Kingdom is an unprecedented degree of collaboration among government, commercial and academic players. A model of early and aggressive regulation has encouraged important and ethically acceptable areas of stem-cell research, while criminalizing irresponsible and unethical endeavors. The Human Fertilization and Embryology Act of 1990 allows the generation and use of embryos for research, but prohibits research on any embryos older than 14 days and enforces the UK's strict legislation, promising stringent fines and up to 10 years' imprisonment for those convicted of reproductive cloning.

In the United States, however, the approach to stem-cell research is quite different. This contrast was evident during the contentious campaign to pass Prop. 71. In many ways, the campaign was seen as a symbol of the clash between socially liberal California and the conservative Bush administration.

Close regulation and a climate of open public debate have helped the United Kingdom stay at the forefront of this
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Contact: Makeda Scott
makeda.scott@fco.gov.uk
202-588-6523
British Information Services
7-Dec-2004


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