BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - The birthplace of Dolly the cloned sheep, Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, was granted a license to carry out research on human embryonic stem cells, which includes permission to create embryos by artificially stimulating donated human eggs.

The work, funded by and carried out in collaboration with Roslin's partner, Geron Corp., of Menlo Park, Calif., will look for better ways to derive stem cell lines from embryos and to establish new stem cell lines. In particular, the institute wants to develop techniques for growing cells in culture without the need for feeder cells to act as a substrate. Any stem cell derived from the research will have to be deposited in the UK stem cell bank.

The license initially was granted for one year by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the government body that is responsible for regulating in vitro fertilization.

Although three other laboratories - The Institute of Stem Cell Research at Edinburgh University, Guy's Hospital in London and the London Fertility Centre - have been granted licenses for human embryonic stem cell research, Roslin is the first with permission to generate human embryos through parthenogenesis, using donated eggs. The process involves artificially stimulating the eggs, causing them to divide and behave in a similar way to standard embryos, all without being fertilized by sperm. Such embryos would not have the potential to develop into a fetus.

Jane Lebkowski, Geron's vice president of regenerative medicine, said: "We are pleased that the HFEA has granted a license to enable this important research. The additional stem cell lines that we expect to derive at Roslin will expand our current resource of six human embryonic stem cell lines and increase the genetic diversity of the cell lines we can use for research. We also expect this work to continue our progress in making the derivation and culture of stem cells more efficient."

The fertilized embryos used in the research will be donated with the informed consent of people who have undergone in vitro fertilization treatment.

Stem cells created under the license can be used only for research purposes. That includes possible testing of the safety and effectiveness of any new treatments and the study of congenital disease.