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Blighty is in danger of losing all its best stem cell boffins to America once George Bush departs from power, according to an official in charge of dishing out UK gov science cash.

At the moment, top stem cell brainboxes flock to the sceptred isle so as to avoid the American president's chokeoff of federal boffinry greenbacks, which he won't have spent on embryonic stem cell research.

"We have been very fortunate in attracting those individuals," said Leszek Borysiewicz, about to take over as head of the UK Medical Research Council.

"But they require an infrastructure and support which is very heavy. We have got to be sure that it is maintained at the highest quality levels - that does not come cheaply, but we have to make sure it actually happens, because these people move on," he warned.

Stem cells are hot among medical researchers, because they can be made to turn into any other kind of cell. This offers the prospect of culturing replacement bits for the human body, possibly leading to cures for Alzheimer's, heart disease, etc. Reputable commentators tend to stop there, but we would also suggest the chance of replacement organs, cyberpunk-style grafts of extra vat-grown muscle, extra legs, etc.

A lot of boffins reckon the best source of stem cells is human embryos, though others prefer the human bollock or other sources. In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) procedures, widely used in wealthy countires to help childless couples conceive, result in substantial numbers of embryos being created only to be later disposed of. Scientists often argue that there is nothing unethical about using these embryos for research.

However, fundy Christians in the US disagree, saying that every embryo is sacred. George Bush backs them, hence the unavailability of US research funding in this area and the exodus of top brains to the UK - though some go instead to California, where Arnold Schwarzenegger is dishing out plenty of state cash.

"We are as powerful as any one can ever be on stem cell research," said the Governator last May (it has been theorised that the fleshy cloak he wears over his eternal metallic machine endoskeleton is wearing out, and he needs a new one grown).

Mr Bush will step down next year, and all the front-running candidates to succeed him are thought likely to rescind his funding chokeoff. This, combined with the Californian lure, could see all of Blighty's best players bought away by US teams.

According to the superbly named Stephen Minger, director of the King's College London stem cell laboratory, top brains are already headed Stateside - but he reckons Blighty is out in front.

"[In this country] I think the advantage that we have had is a stable regulatory environment and strong governmental support for the last five years," Minger told the Guardian.

"So I think we have a lead." ®

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