BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Discussions are gathering pace in the European Union on stem cell research in the run-up to the expiration at the end of the year of the EU's self-imposed moratorium on funding embryonic stem cell research.

European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin has presented a plan under which the EU's research program will fund work for the derivation of new stem cells as long as tight conditions are met. The EU will not fund human embryonic stem cell research in a member state where it is forbidden by national law. Human embryonic stem cells can be derived only from supernumerary embryos that are donated for research by parents, that were created before June 27, 2002, (the date the EU's research program was agreed upon) and that are marked for destruction at some point.

Potential research project partners applying for European Union funding must seek ethical advice at a national or local level in the member states where the research will take place, even in countries where obtaining such ethical advice is not mandatory. Research will be funded only when it is demonstrated that it meets particularly important research objectives and when there is no adequate alternative. In particular, the Commission plan states, it must be demonstrated that the use of existing embryonic or adult stem cell lines will not suffice.

Supernumerary embryos will be used only if informed consent has been given by the donor, and the embryo donor will not be permitted to make any financial gain. Also, data and privacy protection of donors must be guaranteed, and research consortia benefiting from any EU funding will be required to make available new human embryonic stem cells to other researchers.

Meanwhile, German Euro-MP Peter Liese is developing an opinion in the European Parliament's research committee, which is due for final discussion in November.

The EU Council of industry ministers, which looked briefly at the subject on Sept. 22, will have to make the final decision. It is to return to the issue at its meeting November 27.