Leading UK scientists, together with notable medical and patient groups, have all called on members of the European parliament to resist anti-abortion groups’ demands to cut funding for human embryonic stem cell research.
“The European parliament must send a clear sign that it recognises the importance of embryonic stem cell research,” said Sir Mark Walport, the director of the Wellcome Trust in London, one of the signatories to a joint statement expressing concern that MEPs may shortly vote to exclude embryonic stem cells from Horizon 2020, its programme for research and innovation for the next six years.
“While the amount of funding allocated to such research under Horizon 2020 is likely to be only a small portion of the overall budget, to close down such a vital avenue of research would be a massive blow to European science. It will significantly set back research into very serious diseases including Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis and is likely to cost European research its competitive advantage,” said Walport.
The Association of Medical Research Charities, British Heart Foundation, European Genetic Alliances’ Network, Medical Research Council and Parkinson’s UK have also signed the statement.
The Framework Seven program, the present EU research effort, pays for embryonic stem cell research in countries where it is legal. Ministers had already agreed to maintain this deference as part of the multifaceted Horizon 2020 project which starts in 2014.
However, two committees within the European Parliament have now moved to hold hearings on the project, starting this coming week, with several MEPs expected to call for an end to funding on moral grounds.
Three main types of stem cells are currently used in research. These include adult induced pluripotent, embryonic and fetal stem cells.
Embryonic stem cells have proved controversial because they are harvested from day old embryos, something anti-research groups and anti-abortion groups have found objectionable, usually on religious grounds.