London, Sep 28 (UNI) Britain could lose its leading position in stem cell research if the next US president relaxes restrictions on federal funding of the reasearch, the new head of the Medical Research Council said today.
Mr Leszek Borysiewicz, who took over charge of the Britain's largest public science funding agency, said restrictions on federal funding of stem cell research in the US worked in favour of Britain, as top researchers were attracted to the country to carry out research.
''We have been very fortunate in attracting those individuals. 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.
''This is an area that Britain could very quickly be overtaken in, particularly if the sort of big bucks that California are throwing into the system were suddenly thrown in across the whole of the US,'' the Guardian quoted him.
According to Stephen Minger, director of the King's College London stem cell laboratory, state funding in California has already started to make a difference.
''It was clear already that people were beginning to move there, for example from Japan and Australia,'' he said.
He added that Britain had a lead in the area, owing to a stable regulatory environment and strong governmental support for the last five years.
The restrictions on embryonic stem cell research might be lifted post elections in US, with both Democrats and Republicans proposing to liberalise stem cell research.
In August, 2001 President George W Bush placed a ban on using federal funds for research involving embryonic stem cell lines created after that date. However, there are no restrictions on privately-funded research.
The MRC is the Britain's largest public funder of scientific research. Robin Lovell-Badge, at the its National Institute for Medical Research, said as and when the US opens up to federal funding, it would lead to an enormous amount of research there and that would be disadvantageous for Britain.
Stem cells derived from embryos could be used to treat a variety of conditions in which specific tissues are destroyed, for example in Alzheimer's and type 1 diabetes.