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UK scientists have called for £100m to keep Britain at the forefront of stem cell research, and are asking for a new charitable foundation to administer the funds. They say that a lack of cash threatens early advances and that there is a risk of UK research being left behind by ongoing foreign programmes.

The announcement was made on Tuesday at a gathering of UK stem cell scientists in Newcastle. One of the principle architects of the plan, bioscientist Sir Chris Evans, told the BBC: "Britain pioneered this entire field but now we are sliding backwards somewhat, as others accelerate ahead. You see big breakthroughs from China, Korea, Japan and in Germany; and there is a wall of money surfacing in the USA."

The proposed UK Stem Cell Foundation - run by a board of trustees including scientists and entrepreneurs - would be involved in all areas of stem cell research, particularly "translational research", he said. "We need to take potential stem cell medicines, regenerative medicines, to the clinic, into patients and do proper clinical trials and prove the benefits. That's the delivery everybody wants, but to get there it's a few more years and a lot of money and I think that there's a gap - I know that there's a gap - and I think it's quite substantial and I want to do something about it."

Evans and his colleagues hope that heavyweight backing for the foundation - including Sir Richard Branson and president of the Royal Society and former UK chief scientist Lord May - will convince the government of the plan's viability. The backers are keen to support the UK Stem Cell Foundation, so long as their financial input does not threaten existing funding, the BBC reports.

Meanwhile, Professor Ian Wilmut was this week awarded a licence by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to create stem cells from cloned embryos. The man behind Dolly the sheep will use the cells to investigate Motor Neuron Disease. ®

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