Australia to enter the race to clone human embryo cells for stem-cell research

Melbourne's Monash University may be granted the first licence in Australia to clone human embryo cells for stem-cell research.

Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council is currently considering applications for licenses to clone human embryos for stem-cell research and the team from Monash University hopes to be granted the first licence in Australia.

Monash and the Australian Stem Cell Centre have both formed teams with conception treatment center Sydney IVF and the research will be the first allowed under national therapeutic cloning laws which came into effect last year.

The teams are seeking permission to use eggs left over from fertility treatments to clone human embryonic stem cells.

Professor Richard Boyd the director of Monash University's immunology and stem cell laboratory, says strict guidelines are already in place for the research, which will be used to study several diseases, including cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

Professor Boyd says implanting the so-called embryos to create new humans is completely forbidden and is against the law.

The embryonic forms created he says are essentially eggs which have been implanted with the nucleus and are mature cells with no sperm egg fusion.

Professor Boyd says they offer exciting implications for the treatment of diseases as the stem cells are specific to a particular patient because they have in a sense been cloned from the patient's skin.

This will help scientists understand what has gone wrong in the disease process in a patient and possibly lead to new therapies or preventative treatments for specific diseases.

Supportive policies and public research funding means that the UK, Israel, China, Singapore as well as Australia are leading the field in terms of human embryonic stem cell research, way ahead of the U.S.

Recent research shows that the UK and Israel are producing substantially more research in this area than in other fields and according to the new study, the UK produced 5.3 percent more research related to human embryonic stem cells than research performed in other areas of molecular biology and genetics, while Israel produced 4.6 percent more research - surprisingly China and Singapore produced 3.2 percent and 2.6 percent more human embryonic stem cell research.

Until now Australia has not allowed new stem cell lines to be created from fertility treatments and only since 2006 have Australian scientists been allowed to use stem cells from somatic cell nuclear transfer under strict regulatory guidelines.

The study says the U.S. significantly under-performs in this area because federal money can only be used for studies on a small number of stem cell lines produced before August 9, 2001 so most of the research in this area either done with limited state money or private money.

Professor Boyd says such technology will bring Australia into line with the rest of the world and hopefully place Australian research to the very forefront.

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