Blair to establish US stem cell links


Tony Blair will today endorse the UK as an area where stem cell research can be carried out as he continues his US tour in California.

The prime minister is seeking to create stronger hi-tech business links between the west coast state and Britain, despite domestic US public and political pressure against the controversial research.

Religious and conservative groups have campaigned against stem cell research because cells are typically taken from human embryos that have been discarded from fertility treatments. Activists maintain that science can never justify research by effectively ending a human life.

Scientists argue that developing stem cells could lead to long-term cures for diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's, as stem cells are able to assume the qualities and aspects of any other cell, therefore allowing damaged cells to be repaired.

Earlier this month, George Bush used his presidential veto to block federal funding to the stem cell research firms that populate California, with the state forced to find financial backing from other sources.

But a spokesman for the prime minister confirmed that when Mr Blair meets with stem cell company executives later today, he would be trying to reinforce links between respective parties.

"They are interested in working with us in developing the stem cell industry and we are working towards a joint UK-California conference to be held in the UK in November," said the representative.

The prime minister's stance has been warmly welcomed by the chief executive of the UK Stem Cell Foundation, David McCauley.

Speaking on the Today programme this morning, Dr McCauley emphasised that given the negative US perception towards stem cell research, Britain itself could become the world centre for associated companies and businesses.

"The global market for stem cell therapies and production capacity is about £25 billion, and this is an area that the UK can truly lead the world in," he said.

"I think the UK has led through investment in the academic base on this, and it's this combination of stem cell science and our unique technical know how in this country that gives the UK its competitive advantage," the scientist explained.

Although he admitted that "shortcomings" existed in the current UK set-up, Dr McCauley said that the "wonderful opportunity" of stem cell research was too good to pass up.

"This is probably one of the biggest new market opportunities that exists globally. If Tony Blair truly wants to bring the benefits home to the UK then we need joined up thinking on this, and we need more investment than we are currently seeing," he commented.

The chief executive concluded: "Our science is truly world class, but we do need to have the courage and take the next step."

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