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EU lawmakers back rules on embryo-cell cures, approval up to states

European Union lawmakers on Wednesday backed planned EU rules on new types of treatment for diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer's, but shot down conservative calls for a blanket European ban on medicines developed through stem-cell research.

While members of the European Parliament agreed to allow EU registration for all products from embryonic stem cells, they left the approval of such cures at national level up to the bloc's 27 member states. Stem-cell therapy is the most controversial emerging medical treatment as it can involve cells extracted from human embryos. The practice is illegal in some EU countries, including Poland and Italy. Citing ethical concerns, conservative MEPs had demanded that treatments based on products from embryonic stem cells should be excluded from the planned EU rules. The new EU regulation on so-called 'advanced therapies' covers gene therapy, adult stem-cell therapy and tissue engineering. All three treatments are based on replacing human genes, cells or tissues affected by various diseases with healthy ones.

Experts argue that it is crucial for the treatment of blindness, spinal-cord injury, as well as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Current rules on the authorization of the so-called 'advanced therapies' differ widely across the EU's 27 member states. Stakeholders say that such differences hamper research and prevent access for patients from some EU countries to modern medical treatment which could save their lives. (