The European Parliament urged European Union governments Wednesday to allow the union’s money to be spent on research with new embryonic stem cells.

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The vote was for a non-binding resolution, but the parliament’s position is likely to complicate an upcoming meeting of EU government ministers to discuss what to do when a moratorium on EU funding for stem cell research ends Dec. 31.

That meeting appears set to block new guidelines that would allow such funding such reseach, forms of which are illegal in some EU member states — Germany and Austria, in particular.

The EU assembly in Strasbourg, France, voted 300 to 210 in support of funding of embryonic research from the EU’s 2002-2006 research budget of $17.5 billion. There were 19 abstentions. The resolution stated that the research must be conducted “under tight ethical conditions.”

German conservative Peter Liese said he was “disappointed” with the vote.

“By the end of the year we’ve got to decide what rules European researchers have to apply if they want to use European funding,” said Liese. “This is an important issue.”

The European Commission presented a funding proposal in July, arguing that Europe risked falling further behind in research. The proposal would allow researchers to spend EU money to harvest new stem cells from frozen human embryos under certain conditions.

Yet it ran into immediate opposition from those opposing such work since it requires destroying a potentially viable human embryo.

Search for a compromise
EU officials have said that if a compromise by EU governments is not found, the moratorium would probably be extended.

Germany, Italy, Portugal and Austria, all of whom limit the use of such research, have enough votes to block the plans, officials said. EU government ministers are expected to meet over the matter Tuesday. If they block the plans, the proposal could be sent back to the European Commission.

The parliament also ruled that a date limiting the use of human supernumerary embryos should be scrapped, backing Sweden, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands and Britain.

These countries allow harvesting stem cells from so-called supernumerary embryos — extras resulting from in vitro fertilization — under certain conditions. Britain is the only member state that allows the creation of human embryos for stem cell procurement.

However, the parliament said that research using adult stem cells and reprogrammed adult cells should “get priority for financing.”

The Commission had proposed that research could only be done on existing human supernumerary embryos that were created before June 27, 2002.

Scientists believe stem cells could be used to treat a wide range of degenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and even diabetes.

The cells can potentially grow into any type of human tissue. Once harvested, they can be kept growing in laboratories indefinitely.

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