A government advisory panel on Friday gave scientists formal approval to produce cloned human embryos for basic research in the hopes that they will be useful in regenerative medicine.
The Council for Science and Technology Policy, chaired by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, approved proposals outlined in a July 13 report by the bioethics subcommittee.
The council also approved the production of fertilized eggs for use only in reproductive medicine research.
Based on the decision of the panel, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry will draw up guidelines to regulate the production and use of cloned human embryos.
Taizo Yakushiji, head of the committee, reported the contents of the July 13 report to the council, panel members said.
Speaking at a council meeting Friday, Koizumi said: “Cloned human embryos is a difficult but important issue to handle. I want the relevant government ministries and agencies to closely coordinate and address this.”
Production of cloned human embryos is currently banned in Japan under existing guidelines based on a law on human cloning.
The health and science ministries, under the new guidelines, will also work toward creating a monitoring system that will ensure researchers conform to the new guidelines, such as the methods used to obtain eggs.
The council plans to allow the cloning only after checking the system established by the government, the members said.
Supporters hope to use cloned human embryos to make gains in regenerative medicine, but opponents fear that the research could pave the way for cloning humans.
To prevent this from happening, the panel recommended that only state-designated research institutions take part in cloning research.
A cloned human embryo is created by implanting the nucleus of somatic cells such as human skin into an unfertilized egg that has been deprived of a nucleus and carries the same genetic information as the donor of somatic cells. A massive volume of eggs is needed to produce one.
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