Browse Topics



Britain Pushes Forward with Stem-Cell Work
U.K. Seizes Opportunity as U.S. Shies Away from Embryo Research

audio icon Listen to Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

A microscopic view of a colony of undifferentiated human embryonic stems cells.
A microscopic view of a colony of undifferentiated human embryonic stems cells. The embryonic stem-cell colonies are the rounded, dense masses of cells.
Image: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Enlarge image.

Stephen Minger is an American scientist who choses to carry out his stem-cell research in London.
Photo: Joe Palca, NPR News

Graduate student John Draper works in Peter Andrews' lab at the University of Sheffield. Draper has a rare green thumb for growing embryonic stem cells in the lab.
Photo: Joe Palca, NPR News

Culture trays containing human embryonic stems cells.
Photo: Jeff Miller, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dec. 30, 2002 -- Two recent events have transformed the world of biology: the development of cloning techniques, and the isolation of human embryonic stem cells. Although both of these topics are the subject of intense ethical debate, scientists say cloning and embryonic stem cells hold the potential to revolutionize medicine.

Controversy surrounds stem-cell research, and support varies among governments and institutions. President Bush has said that despite the potential of this research for treating diseases such as Parkinson's and diabetes, the destruction or creation of human embryos for this purpose is not justifiable. Mr. Bush has limited federal spending on embryonic stem cells, and some of his closest allies want to ban the research entirely. By contrast, Prime Minister Tony Blair has embraced stem-cell research and vowed that Great Britain will become the leader in the field.

In a three-part series for Morning Edition, NPR's Joe Palca visits British stem-cell laboratories to take a look at how research is done there. He also explores why some stem-cell biologists choose to work in Britain, while others pick the United States.

Part 1, Dec. 30, 2002
Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised to help Great Britain become a world leader in stem-cell research and therapy. Several publicly funded centers in the United Kingdom are vigorously pursuing stem-cell research using embryos discarded by IVF clinics -- that would be illegal in the United States. Joe Palca reports on the progress they're making toward potential therapies.

audio icon Listen to Part 1 .

Part 2, Dec. 31 2002
Britain allows the use of embryos discarded by IVF clinics for stem-cell research, and also permits the cloning of human embryos for this purpose. This decision has caused very few ripples. Palca examines the political, social and cultural factors that -- in marked contrast to the United States -- make research with human embryonic stem cells acceptable in the U.K.

audio icon Listen to Part 2 .

Part 3, Jan. 1, 2003
In order to gauge whether restrictions affecting stem-cell research in the United States could make it lag behind Britain and Europe in terms of progress towards therapies, Palca visits a top-notch American researcher who has chosen to work on stem cells in Britain, and a leading British researcher who left the U.K. to lead a major stem-cell lab in the U.S.

audio icon Listen to Part 3 .

In Depth

Hear recent coverage of the issue from NPR's archives.

Learn about the science behind stem cell research and read the NIH stem cell primer.

Go to our online resource list to learn more about the scientific and ethical debates, and the organizations involved.

Learn how cloning relates to stem cell research.

In his interview with Palca, British scientist Clive Svendsen, who now lives in Madison, Wis., said he missed England's pubs: "The beer here is absolutely lousy." A Wisconsin newspaper columnist took Svendsen to task. Read what happened.