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Britain Opens World’s First Stem Cell Bank

The world’s first embryonic stem cell bank opened in Britain on Wednesday, breaking new ground in one of the most controversial areas of medical research. The bank aims to store and supply stem cell lines for research and ultimately for treatment of conditions like diabetes, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Its store of stem cells is expected to number tens of thousands.

But opponents say such research is unethical and have condemned the bank. The first two stem cell lines, developed by separate teams of scientists in Britain, will be deposited at the bank in Hertfordshire, southern England, which promises to help scientists explore treatments for currently incurable diseases.

“This potentially revolutionary research could benefit thousands of patients whose lives are blighted by devastating diseases,” Health Minister Lord Warner said in a statement.

The bank puts Britain into conflict with pro-life campaigners and with the United States government, where President George W. Bush issued an executive order in August 2001 limiting federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research. Anti-abortion groups argue that the bank is unethical because the extraction of stem cells from human embryos violates the human rights of the embryos. “It ultimately trivialises human life by creating embryos – which mark the very beginnings of the quality of human life – and effectively turning them into pharmaceutical products,” said Patrick Cosworth of the anti-abortion group Life. “So-called therapeutic cloning is something which we feel is unethical, unnecessary and very dangerous,” he told BBC radio.

The bank will be funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. “Stem cell research offers real promise for the treatment of currently incurable diseases,”

Professor Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive of the MRC, said in a statement. “The bank will ensure that researchers can explore the enormous potential of this exciting science for the future benefit of patients.”

The bank’s first two stem cell lines were developed separately by researchers at King’s College London and the Centre for Life in Newcastle, northern England.