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EU ministers to mull ban on stem-cell funding

Written by: Staff
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BRUSSELS, July 23 (Reuters) European Union states may ban EU cash for research using human embryonic stem cells this week, days after President George W Bush vetoed an expansion of such work in the United States.

EU ministers will try tomorrow to agree on the 25-nation bloc's 51 billion euros research programme for 2007-13, aimed at plugging the research gap with the United States and spurring economic growth.

The key hurdle is research using human embryonic stem cells.

Stem cells can turn themselves into any other type of cell in the body, and can be taken from embryos or adults to develop drugs or repair parts of the body.

The most promising stem cells are derived from very early human embryos left over from fertility treatments. Extracting the cells entails destroying the embryo.

Churches and ethics campaigners argue against using human embryos, while scientists say they are crucial.

Last month, the European Parliament agreed to using a fraction of the EU cash for embryonic and adult stem cell research under strict conditions, and EU president Finland has proposed that states effectively endorse the assembly's package.

Opposition from Italy, Germany, Austria, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Luxembourg, Lithuania, and Malta appears enough to delay agreement on the whole research programme, diplomats said.

''The European Union science programme should not be used to give financial incentives to kill embryos,'' German Research Minister Annette Schavan said in a letter seen by Reuters.

Spain, Belgium, Sweden and Britain support such research, and a delay could leave projects without funds from January.

Last Wednesday, Bush cast his first veto to block legislation to expand embryonic stem cell research, putting him at odds with top scientists, most Americans and some fellow Republicans but winning praise from anti-abortion groups.

Nine projects involving embryonic stem cells have been funded under the current programme after demonstrating to a special committee that adult stem cells could not be used.

Member states and the assembly have joint say on the programme spanning research in health, biotechnology, nanosciences, energy, space and environment.

''If the decision of the member states is different from the parliament, negotiations will be long and hard,'' diplomats said.

REUTERS DKB BD1700

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