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End of embryo moratorium

The Austrailian | April 06, 2005
By Leigh Dayton and Gosia Kaszubska

ALLOWING scientists to use their leftover IVF embryos for research seemed the most logical choice for Liz and Peter Schumacher, once their family was complete.

"If you're not going to use them, why leave them in the freezer?" Mrs Schumacher, 35, said yesterday.

"Why not learn something from them before they are flushed down the toilet?"

The Schumachers' donation to the scientific community produced Australia's first embryonic stem cell line.

The Sydney couple - who now have IVF babies Megan, 4, and Sarah, 2, plus Olivia, 1, a surprise natural conception - hope today's lifting of a three-year moratorium on the use of frozen embryos in research will inspire others to follow their lead.

The moratorium, hammered out in 2002 by the Council of Australian Governments, allowed research only on excess assisted reproductive technology (ART) embryos created before April 5, 2002. It accompanied laws regulating the use of research involving human embryos and banning human cloning.

Researchers holding the nine licences to work with excess ART embryos are still restricted to the pre-2002 pool.

To date, there had been no new licence applications, said Jock Findlay, chairman of the National Health and Medical Research Council committee responsible for administering national regulations.

"It's business as usual except for the change in date," he said, adding that existing licensing, monitoring and compliance requirements remained in place.

Experts welcomed the end of the moratorium, saying it ensured adequate supplies of embryos for the study of embryo metabolism and infertility, and as a continuing source of embryonic stem cells.

"It's too early to rely on adult stem cells for research," said Monash University researcher Alan Trounson.

Further, scientists claim advances in stem cell and embryo research, including improved methods of creating ART embryos, mean more and better science can be done with younger, healthier embryos.

Stephen Livesey, chief scientific officer at the Australian Stem Cell Centre in Melbourne, said researchers were keen to work with ART embryos carrying genes for diseases such as cystic fibrosis.

Now stem cell lines can be developed to study such diseases.

This would please the Schumachers, whose donation is being used to study juvenile diabetes. "We weren't emotionally attached to the embryos," Mr Schumacher said. "The choice is pretty stark and pretty easy, we think."

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