The United Kingdom has been a leader in stem cell science from the beginning. UK scientists have been involved in regenerative medicine since its inception of the field in the early 1980s. In 2001 the UK was one of the first countries to introduce specific legislation banning any attempt to carry out reproductive cloning.
The UK’s regenerative medicine legislation is largely based on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act of 1990. Under the terms of the Act, scientists are allowed to use human embryos for a restricted range of research, provided they gain a license from the HFE Authority (HFEA). In 2001, the Act was modified to allow the licensing and derivation of stem cell lines from surplus embryos created during IVF treatments, for both IVF and therapeutic cloning, as well as additional areas of research. The International Stem Cell Forum‘s 2004 review of global ethics and regulations in stem cell research provided the foundation for the 2004 Human Tissue Act which reflects scientific advances in the field.
Today the UK permits research with adult and embryonic stem cells and is one of the very few countries to allow therapeutic cloning, all within a clear, comprehensive regulatory framework that is supportive of responsible research within well defined and closely monitored parameters.
The UK government is fully supportive of regenerative medicine and has consistently provided substantial funding. In 2005 it established the UK Stem Cell Initiative, charged with formulating a ten-year stem cell vision for the UK, and creating a platform for coordinated public and private funding. In the same year the Pattison Report provided 11 recommendations for the government to take stem cell research forward.
Outside of central government a range of organisations support regenerative medicine research. Key players are the United Kingdom Research Councils (RCUK), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), as well as charities such as the Wellcome Trust.
The UK sees international collaboration and knowledge sharing essential for successful research. Examples of initiatives that foster such knowledge exchange are:
- UK Stem Cell Bank
- UK Stem Cell Foundation
- UK Stem Cell Initiative
- UK National Stem Cell Network
- Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research (Cambridge)
- North West Embryonic Stem Cell Centre (Manchester)
- North East England Stem Cell Institute (Newcastle)
- Scottish Stem Cell Network (Edinburgh)
- Centre for Stem Cell Biology (Sheffield)
The UK government is currently revising its legislation governing assisted reproduction and embryo research, taking into account developments in science and society over the last 18 years. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill covers a number of issues related to embryonic stem cell research. This link provides a factsheet on some of the key issues addressed in the draft legislation which is expected to complete its passage through Parliament in the next few weeks.
Contacts for IASCR: Theresa Djirbandee (Western USA), Acting Vice Consul, Science and Innovation, British Counsulate-General San Francisco and Stefan Winkler, Ph.D. (Eastern USA), Consul and Chief Science Officer, British Consulate-General Boston, Science and Innovation, British Consulate-General