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Science academy warns of over-regulation after stem cell ruling

Germany’s academy of science, the Leopoldina, has urged politicians not to over-regulate stem cell research in the light of a European Court of Justice ruling on what constitutes an embryo for patenting purposes.

The academy said on 7 December that the ruling must not harm stem cell research generally. Its members are concerned that the wording used may influence funding for basic research funding in this area.

The European Court of Justice’s wide definition of the term “embryo”, and its outlawing of any patents relating to research in which embryos have been destroyed, reflects Germany’s hard line stance on embryonic stem cell research. In Germany it is forbidden to carry out any kind of research in which embryos are destroyed, and this position has also been adopted for the European research funding programmes.

“There is a risk that the court’s ruling is morally discrediting stem cell researchers,” said the Leopoldina, in its response to the ruling. “We have to counter any attempts to use this ruling to judge stem cell research beyond the patenting aspect.”

Public opinion in Germany is very much against stem cell research, and the German government has repeatedly emphasised its own position on the subject. However, its scientists worry that tight restrictions on their work will drive research abroad.