BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - The UK became the first country to allow the cloning of human embryos for research purposes following a 212-to-92 vote last week in the House of Lords. This endorsed a previous vote in Parliament in December, which backed the move 366-to-174.

In the end, the majority in the Lords was far bigger then expected. This followed two concessions by the government - that it would bring in new legislation reinforcing the existing ban on human reproductive cloning, and that it would set up a parliamentary committee to review the ethics of cloning research. No licenses for such research will be granted until the review is completed later this year.

The move to allow cloning for therapeutic purposes involves amending the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which already allows embryos up to 14 days to be used for research on infertility and contraception.

Crispin Kirkman, chief executive of the UK BioIndustry Association, said the act "now provides excellent and balanced regulation in this important area of research where the UK is at the forefront of international work."

"Extending the scope of permitted embryo research in the UK to encompass regenerative cell therapies will pave the way for treatments for hitherto untreatable illnesses," Kirkman said. "UK researchers are world leaders in this field and the change could herald treatments for Parkinson's disease, spinal cord damage and heart disease."

No other government in Europe has legislated to approve therapeutic cloning. Before leaving office, President Clinton proposed a change to the existing U.S. ban on public funding of such research. It remains to be seen if President Bush will go ahead with this and allow the National Institutes of Health to fund therapeutic cloning work.

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