An application has been made by Professor Ian Wilmut, a member of the team of scientists that produced Dolly the cloned sheep, to use a different kind of cloning technology to produce human embryos for use in stem cell research.
Professor Wilmut and fellow researchers at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, want to use a process called parthenogenesis to create cloned embryos. Parthenogenesis uses chemical stimulation to allow an egg to divide and multiply as it would do following,fertilisation but without the need for sperm. Last year, American Biotech Company - Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) caused controversy when it announced that it had created the world's first cloned human embryos, using chemicals to trigger parthenogenesis in the egg.
The purpose of obtaining embryos in this way would be to extract stem cells for research purposes, not to implant them into a woman's uterus, said Wilmut. So-called 'therapeutic cloning' is legal in the UK, although an advisory panel to the Government recommended only limited use of the technology.
The application will be considered by the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which reviews all applications for work involving human embryos, and a decision is expected next year. But some scientists do not consider 'parthenogenetically activated eggs' to be embryos as, according to the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, the definition of 'embryo' is an egg fertilised by sperm.