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First he brought you Dolly the sheep, now he wants to clone human beings - or at least their gooey embryos.

Professor Ian Wilmut has been awarded a license to create stem cells from cloned embryos. The license, granted by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), will allow Wilmut and researchers at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh to study Motor Neuron Disease (MND). Thousands of people in the UK suffer from MND - many of whom die 14 months after diagnosis.

"We recognise that Motor Neuron Disease is a serious congenital condition," said Angela McNab, chief executive of HFEA. "Following careful review of the medical, scientific, legal and ethical aspects of this application, we felt it was appropriate to grant the Roslin Institute a one-year licence for this research into the disease.”

Wilmut garnered much attention a few years ago when he created Dolly the cloned sheep. The celebrity walking sweater died at the tender age of six, when she was put down to stop the effects of a worsening lung disease.

Wilmut now plans to take the skin cells of patients suffering from MND and combine them with eggs donated by women. Genetic material will be pulled from the egg and replaced with material from the skin cells. The egg will then be allowed to grow into a 5-6 day old embryo. That embryo will be harvested for its stem cells.

"Using these embryonic stem cells researchers can study the development of Motor Neuron Disease in patients who do not have the genes that are currently known to cause the disease," HFEA said. "Whilst these embryonic stem cells would not be used to correct the disease, the study of these cells could help develop future treatments."

This experiment with human cloning will no doubt cause quite the squabble between those who abhor the idea of fooling around with embryos and others who see such research as a natural step for science.

More information on Wilmut's proposal can be found here. ®

Related stories

US stem cell research in jeopardy
Cloned kitten sold for $50,000
Annan lines up against US-inspired human cloning ban
UN to debate embryo cloning

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