BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Parliament will this week debate a new seven-year research program for the European Union, and likely is to give a cautious go-ahead for it to back research on stem cells.

Attitudes to stem cell research vary widely across the EU's 25 member states, and conservative views in some have in the past risked limiting the scope in all of them. The parliament's industry committee now is urging that research on the use of human stem cells, both adult and embryonic, may be financed through the program - an approach already recommended by senior EU officials.

Strict conditions are envisaged, however. All research plans will be vetted in respect of their scientific content and legal framework in the countries where the research is to be conducted. For any use of human embryonic stem cells, the institutions and researchers will be subject to strict licensing and control, in line with national legal frameworks.

But the committee is equally clear that the program must not finance research aimed at human cloning for reproductive purposes, research intended to modify human genetic makeup so that changes become inheritable, or research intended to create human embryos solely for the purpose of research or the purpose of stem cell procurement, including by means of somatic cell nuclear transfer.

Currently, the EU is funding a limited number of projects using embryonic stem cells, but only where the cells come from embryos that already were created for in vitro fertilization purposes, but not used, and where explicit consent has been given for their use for research. Research teams have to justify their use scientifically, and show that other types of stem cells, such as from umbilical cords, are not appropriate.

At present, research using human embryonic stem cells is allowed in Belgium, the UK and Sweden for therapeutic cloning. Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Spain and the Netherlands allow the derivation of new cells from supernumerary embryos from in vitro fertilization. Estonia, Hungary, Latvia and Slovenia have no specific regulations, but allow some research on supernumerary embryos. Germany and Italy restrict research to imported cells, and Austria, Lithuania and Poland prohibit human embryonic stem cell research.

EU-U.S. Biotech Cooperation Renewed

An agreement was signed between the European Union and the U.S. June 8, prolonging their joint task force on biotechnology research, which has been fostering trans-Atlantic dialogue since 1990.

"The EU-U.S. Task Force on biotechnology research represents a long-standing relationship between equal partners," said Europe's science and research commissioner, Janez Potocnik.

The main aim of the task force is to anticipate the needs of biotechnology by bringing together officials, policy-makers and younger researchers to forecast research challenges and to promote better links between scientific communities. It is addressing synthetic genomics, environmental biotechnology, plant science and plant-based bio-products; obesity; and emerging infectious diseases, like avian flu and severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Biotech Industry Supports EU BioFuels Initiative

The European association for bioindustries, EuropaBio, welcomed the June 8 launch of a new grouping devoted to biofuels technology, which the European Union has set up to generate a strategy for the production of biofuels. The EU is planning for biofuels to account for 8 percent of transport energy by 2015. EuropaBio has responded by creating its own biofuels task force to coordinate industry input. The growing attention to biofuels within the EU is behind the recent acceptance of Total and BP into EuropaBio membership.

"Biofuels represent the convergence of several existing sectors. Industrial biotechnology provides the conversion processes for biomass, crop biotechnology will increasingly contribute to the sustainable supply of sufficient biomass and energy companies will provide the route to market," the industry association said.

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