9 May 2005
Professor Ian Wilmut of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh has been granted a licence to clone human embryos. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has given permission for the cloning as part of research into motor neurone disease (MND) led by Professor Wilmut and Professor Chris Shaw of the Department of Neurology at King's College Hospital, London; this is only the second such license awarded by the HFEA to date. The first license, awarded to the Newcastle Centre for Life in August 2004 for cloning to create embryonic stem cells genetically identical to donor cells, is currently subject to a legal challenge, brought on the grounds that the HFEA was not forthcoming and transparent in its reasons for granting the license, and that it could not lawfully grant the license (see previous newsletter item).
MND is a severe and progressive condition affecting around 5000 people in the UK, caused by the loss of motor neurones that control muscle movement via the brain and spinal cord. The researchers plan to clone embryos from MND patients in order to create embryos with the disease, with a view to studying the mechanism of motor neurone degeneration and investigating how cells may respond to new drugs. This is in contrast to most forms of therapeutic cloning, where the aim is to use embryos to create healthy tissue for the treatment of people with diseases. Angela McNab, Chief Executive of the HFEA said: