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Stem cell researchers claim victory in battle with Church

MPs fall in favour of hybrid embryos

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Scientists have today welcomed MPs' decision to allow them to create human-animal hybrids in order to harvest embryonic stem cells for research.

After a weekend of intensive and emotive lobbying from both sides of the debate, the victory for scientists late last night was comfortable in the end. In a free vote, 336 MPs voted in favour of allowing hybrid embryos, to 176 against.

Developmental genetic professor Robin Lovell-Badge, of the Medical research council, said: "This is excellent news. While there is still some way to go before any of this is turned into law, the positive vote follows on from the support the Bill received in the House of Lords and is yet another endorsement for the progress of scientific enquiry - one that will greatly aid our understanding of normal embryonic devlopment, and of many types of debilitating genetic disease."

The result was also praised by a wide range of medical charities and pressure groups. Robert Meadowcroft, policy director of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, said: "We are pleased that a vast number of MPs have realised the importance of using embryonic stem cell research in helping to find cures and treatments for people with devastating and life-limiting diseases such as muscle disease.

"The safeguards amendments within the Bill provide a much needed regulatory framework for this vital research."

Many MPs had expressed reservations about the new law, which is set to form part of an update to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. Catholic cabinet ministers Des Browne and Ruth Kelly voted to outlaw hybrid embryos.

Once the bill is passed, scientists will be able to apply for a licence to create hybrid "admix" embryos, most likely by inserting human DNA into an denucleated cow's egg. It's hoped the technique will provide a ready supply of embryonic stem cells for research, while the admix embryo itself must be destroyed by the 14th day of development.

Two licences have already been issued by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to groups in Newcastle and London, but research has been put on hold while new controls pass through parliament.

A separate attempt to ban so-called "saviour siblings" - where parents are able to select an embryo genetically compatible with an existing sick child - was also defeated last night.

Today will see two further key votes on the bill around less research-driven issues. One will follow debate on whether to remove the current obligation on fertility clinics to consider if a child would have a father when assessing women for IVF treatment.

The second vote will decide whether to cut the upper limit for abortions from 24 weeks. Recent medical advances have meant that very premature babies born before this point have survived. ®

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