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Nobel Medicine Laureates Support Stem Cell Cloning

By Jan Strupczewski

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (Reuters) - This year's Nobel medicine laureates Friday threw their weight behind calls to allow the cloning of human embryos to produce stem cells for medical research.

British Nobel laureate Paul Nurse said the issue of cloning human cells aroused more passion than rational debate and that research should not be banned over concerns of potential abuse.

``There are real advantages to therapeutic stem cell cloning and their use toward the treatment of degenerative diseases which would allow the generation of cells that could replace damaged tissues,'' Nurse told a news conference in Stockholm.

``It should not be of course be confused with reproductive cloning of human beings. But ... it would be a mistake not to do something only because it could be used in the wrong way.''

Stem cells, or ``master cells,'' have the potential to turn into any human cells and hold immense, though still unproven, promise for treating many diseases, including Parkinson's, diabetes and heart disease.

ETHICAL FEARS

But many oppose any form of cloning on ethical grounds, fearing it could eventually lead to creating a whole person.

The U.S. House of Representatives, backed by President Bush (news - web sites), voted in August to ban all human cell cloning and to allow federal funding for research only into existing stem cell colonies. Privately funded firms could do as they please.

But the U.S. Senate has put off action because it is divided between those who want to stop all forms of cloning and those who want to prevent the cloning of a human baby while permitting cloning for therapeutic reasons.

Nurse and compatriot Timothy Hunt and Leland Hartwell from the United States received the 2001 Nobel prize for physiology or medicine for helping understand how cells divide, a key to finding out why some go haywire as in cancer cells.

Hartwell said he expected their research would lead to major changes in pharmacology, making it possible to create highly specialized medicines targeting individual cells.

This year's prize is worth a record 10 million Swedish crowns, about $953,900, which the three laureates will share.

Hartwell said he would spend his share of the money to start a fund for children's education. Hunt said he would pay off his mortgage and Nurse said he would buy a new motorbike.

Nurse said he believed the biggest task facing physiology this century will be to determine the workings of the human genome which maps the body's genes.

``The human genome is the list of actors but we have not even sorted out the plot yet, let alone what they have to say,'' he said.

 

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Last updated by Yusmy on 19th December 2001