The Clone Arrangers

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Byline: By Graeme Whitfield

Scientists have been given the go-ahead to spearhead a genetic revolution in the North after winning permission to clone human cells.

The experts at Newcastle's Centre for Life yesterday became the first people in Europe ( and only the second in the world ( to get a licence for stem cell research on human embryos.

The licence will allow them to work on new treatments for diseases including diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Pro-life campaigners hit out at the decision last night, and said they were considering legal action to stop the Newcastle scientists.

But business leaders in the region hailed the decision by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) for the potentially massive economic and health benefits it could bring the North-East.

Richard Maudslay, deputy chairman of development agency One NorthEast and chairman of the region's Science and Industry Council, said: "Doing ground-breaking work like this encourages other researchers to come here because they can see it's an exciting place to work. There will inevitably be spin-off companies from such hi-tech research and many people will see the benefits of this.

"One of the problems you have in the North-East is getting people to take you seriously when you're not in London, Oxford or Cambridge.

"But here we're getting national attention for being the absolute leaders and that is very exciting."

Centre for Life chief executive Alastair Balls said: "This is one of the most innovative cutting-edge endeavours to come out of Britain in the last 10 years.

"We cannot over-estimate the importance of staying ahead in a highly competitive field which may provide immense long-term benefits for people worldwide and boost the British economy."

The Centre for Life research is being headed by Professor Alison Murdoch, from the Newcastle NHS Fertility Centre, and Dr Miodrag Stojkovic, a reader in stem cell biology and embryology at Newcastle University.

They want to use a technique called nuclear transfer to derive cells that are genetically identical to those of a patient, using embryos which are created for IVF treatment and then discarded because they are not suitable. …