Trounson to researchers: lay off therapeutic cloning push for now

By Tanya Hollis
Thursday, 25 July, 2002

Australia's best-known stem cell scientist has asked that researchers hold off lobbying for therapeutic cloning in order to cement the concessions granted by the Prime Minister so far.

Speaking at a BioMelbourne Network breakfast forum today, Centre for Stem Cells and Tissue Repair CEO Dr Alan Trounson also said current literature did not yet support the need for therapeutic cloning.

Trounson was responding to comments from Murdoch Children's Research Institute director Prof Bob Williamson, who proffered that the debate had been hijacked by fundamentalists with an obsession over the potentiality of stem cells.

Williamson said his own institute was interested in advancing cell therapies whereby an adult stem cell could be fused with an enucleated egg for transplant to a patient.

But he said opponents argued that such work should not be permitted because of what he said was the "one in a million chance" the fusion would result in an embryo with the potential for human life.

"If we considered potentiality all the way, then we could say that every time we wash our hands we're killing millions of potential embryos," Williamson said, referring to the possibility of skin cells being fused with an egg.

Trounson countered that there was little point in arguing for the right to conduct therapeutic cloning while scientific literature did not support the need for it.

"I think there are other ways of doing it and the literature is starting to show that there are other ways of getting cells into a pluripotential state," Trounson said.

He also said that the stem cell research community was in something of a political bind over the issue. "Our advice is take the present opportunity because if you complicate it you may lose the ability to make stem cells from the frozen available embryos," he said.

In April, a Council of Australian Governments meeting agreed that surplus embryos created through assisted reproductive technology should be available for stem cell research with the consent of donors.

But the ministers stopped short of permitting the creation of embryos for the specific purpose of research, disallowing all forms of cloning, including therapeutic cloning, for at least three years.

Draft regulations governing the use of embryos in research are to be debated in the Spring session of Parliament.

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