In five to ten years China could become a world leader in therapeutic cloning and related research, a US stem cell scientist has predicted in the journal Nature. Xiangzhong Yang, of the University of Connecticut, contends that China's main asset is that it lacks the ethical qualms which have hampered the development of research on human embryos in Western countries. "In addition," he says, "the relatively easy access to human material, including embryonic and foetal tissues, in China is a huge advantage for researchers".
Chinese scientists have already achieved notable progress towards therapeutic cloning. They have produced transgenic rabbits, goats and cows; they have cloned goats, cattle and rats. At Shanghai Second Medical University they have extracted stem cells from embryos by creating rabbit-human hybrids and at Xiangya Medical College in Changsha they have cloned human embryos to the multicellular blastocyst stage. Since the Chinese cannot possibly be internationally competitive in all fields overnight, Dr Yang urges them to focus on human embryo research and related biotechnologies.
He also foreshadows collaborative projects of Western researchers with their colleagues in China. While they focus on animal models, their Chinese partners in stem cell centres could work on human research.
Dr Yang also insists that more oversight by the Chinese government is needed to guarantee minimum ethical standards. "Regulations are often not followed," he says, "and some very sensitive embryo-based studied are conducted with little or no institutional review, and researchers suffer no consequences for not following institutional or national regulations or guidelines, if they exist."
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