UK scientists have been given the go-ahead to inject cells made from an aborted baby into patients’ brains in trials that were refused permission by regulators overseas.
The scientists claim the trials could bring the UK to the forefront of technological advances in this area.
But the plan has been criticised by pro-life groups who say it is “unethical in every way”.
The trials will be carried out at a hospital in Glasgow. The scientists will inject millions of stem cells derived from an aborted foetus into the brains of twelve patients.
They hope to discover a way of prompting the brain to recover from damage caused by strokes.
Keith Muir, who is heading up the trial at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, said: “If it works, as it has done in animal model systems, it may allow new nerve cells to grow or regeneration of existing cells and actual recovery of function in patients who would not otherwise be able to regain function.”
He said he was “very excited at the prospect of a genuine world’s first”.
ReNeuron, the company behind the project, turned to the UK after failing to get permission from authorities in America to carry out the research.
Dr John Sinden, chief scientific officer at ReNeuron, said the more relaxed attitude of UK regulators may attract other companies to carry out similar work here.
When challenged over the ethics of the trials, Dr Sinden insisted that only one aborted foetus had been used, and argued that this was justified by the potential benefits for patients.
He said the advance was a “major plus in the technology we have and really negates the ethical concerns about the original use of foetal tissue”.
However, John Smeaton, director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, expressed opposition to the research when it was proposed two years ago.
He said: “It is unethical in every way – killing one member of the human race to help another. We are totally opposed to this.”
Josephine Quintavalle, of the campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, also expressed concerns.
She said: “Even using just one foetus in this way is wrong. The stem cells will have been taken from a healthy foetus. Would any woman want her unborn baby to have its brain used in this way?”