Pro-Lifers Worry as British Scientists Create Nerve Stem Cells

British scientists have created the world’s first nerve stem cells in Edinburgh, Scotland, in a development which has been met with mixed reactions.

Some have touted the announcement as a major breakthrough in the race to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. The cells were developed at the Edinburgh University Institute for Stem Cell Research, led by Professor Austin Smith.

It is the first time ever that scientists have been able to grow and successfully sustain pure brain cells. Until now, scientists across the globe had been unsuccessful in sustaining the ability of neural stem cells to produce replicas of themselves when grown in a dish. However, in Edinburgh, by altering the growth conditions, pure stem cells divisions have taken place.

Steven Pollard, one of the researchers said, “The purity of the cells, and the fact that they do not make tumours, means they should be valuable for studying the potential of transplantation to repair damage.”

Stem cell research has been a major area of controversy this year after the Stem Cell Sciences plc (SCS) were granted a licence to experiment with the technology.

In June a study was presented in Copenhagen by British scientists attempting to show the future that may be possible through stem-cell research. To the outrage of pro-life groups and evangelical Christians, the study indicated how lab-created ova and sperm could be used to allow any couple, heterosexual or homosexual to produce children that contain the genetic identity of both partners.

British scientists in May also celebrated a historical milestone in medical advancement as the team in Newcastle University successfully cloned the country's first human embryo. This ignited another stormy schism over the ethical issues on cloning among pro-lifers and conservative Christians.

The first cloned human embryo was "born" at the International Center for Life in Newcastle in the hands of the experts from the Institute of Human Genetics at Newcastle University. The team had performed therapeutic cloning using human embryos.

The Newcastle University Team was granted a licence to perform therapeutic cloning by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in Britain. It was the first time such a licence has been granted in Europe, and it sparked great concern regarding the moral pitfalls of reproductive cloning.

In March, the UN voted in favor of a ban on all human cloning - both therapeutic and reproductive - but this was non-binding which means therapeutic cloning can still be accepted by individual nations.

However, the latest development allowed Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Peter Mountford to say, “Being able to grow pure brain cells is an exciting prospect for the company. SCS sees new business opportunities in both cell-based drug discovery and cell-based therapies for neurological disorders.”

Stem cells are “master cells” that can be used by scientists to create many different kinds of tissue, while nerve stem cells help to build brain and central nervous system matter.

A number of Christian groups have already expressed their concerns over cloning and stem cell research. Earlier this year, South Korean scientists shocked the world when they cloned 30 human embryos and developed them for a number of days last year.

Campaigners and pro-life groups have consistently labeled the study as "profoundly unethical,” and although the creation of cloned babies is still banned in the UK, therapeutic cloning has been legal since 2002, which many pro-life groups worry will leave the door open for extreme scientific research into the area.