BioWorld International Correspondent

A team of researchers based at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense is the first group in Denmark to receive permission to carry out embryonic stem cell research, following a change in the country's legislation at the beginning of September.

Steen Broch Laursen is leading a group based at the Clinic for Molecular Endocrinology at the university and at Odense University Hospital, which will develop its own embryonic stem cell lines, based on a combination of proprietary protocols and data published by other groups.

At present, he told BioWorld International, his four-person group has developed a transitional technique, which involves the cultivation of human embryonic stem cells in the presence of nonhuman mammalian fetal cells. The team plans to implement a fully human system in the coming months and aims to develop multiple lines using a variety of protocols.

Before the introduction of the new legislation, Danish researchers were forbidden from developing their own embryonic stem cell lines. The previous legislative regime did not prevent them from importing them from third countries, but none are believed to have availed of that option. The new legislation does not permit somatic cell nuclear transfer. It also forbids commercialization of the research.

"We are quite lucky that the legislation has been changed at all, so we will start the research and see how it goes," Laursen said. "I don't think we should push it too hard at this point."

The legislation is administered on a regional basis throughout Denmark.

Laursen's group received permission to carry out its research program from a local ethics committee based at Odense University Hospital. Other researchers also can apply to their respective local committees, which are coordinated by a national committee.

Denmark's move into human embryonic stem cell work follows its establishment last year of a national stem cell research network, the Dansk Center for Stamcelleforskning, which is funding adult stem cell projects in academia and industry. (See BioWorld International, July 24, 2002.)