Science  31 May 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5573, pp. 1587
  1. Stem Cell Hostage?

    Final approval of the European Union's flagship research program has become entangled in the politics of embryo research. Several countries this week threatened to hold the $17 billion Framework program hostage to demands for stricter prohibitions on human embryo research. The 6th Framework, a 4-year program slated to begin this fall, rules out research on reproductive cloning and the creation of embryos for research. But four E.U. members—Germany, Austria, Ireland, and Italy—were hoping to add prohibitions against therapeutic cloning and the derivation of new human embryonic stem cell lines, on the grounds that such work is not permitted in their countries. Together the four would have enough votes to block the Framework's approval in the E.U. Council, which still must approve the program. But the coalition appeared to be unraveling as Science went to press; if it does, say officials in Austria and Germany, they will continue to push for more-restrictive language in ongoing budget debates.

  2. Legal Threat

    The Pasteur Institute in Paris faces a potentially expensive day of reckoning. For a decade, the Pasteur and the Association France-Hypophyse, an endocrinology group, have been at the center of a controversy over cases of the fatal brain-wasting condition, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), linked to the use of contaminated human growth hormone (HGH). Several scientists are under criminal investigation for their roles in preparing HGHderived from cadavers tainted with aberrant prion proteins implicated in CJD. The hormone stocks were prescribed to children in 1984 and 1985, before France switched to recombinant growth hormone (Science, 30 July 1993, p. 543).

    The French government has offered the families of 81 CJD victims, out of 1200 at-risk individuals, compensation of $250,000 each. But the family of Pascale Fachin, who died last June at age 30, is seeking greater damages—$800,000—from Pasteur and the association. A civil court will rule on its claim on 9 July.

    The exact wording of the ruling will be critical. According to a Pasteur spokesperson, the institute's insurance would not cover a judgment finding it responsible as the manufacturer of the tainted preparation; but a ruling that it was merely the supplier of the raw materials would be covered. Either way, a judgment against Pasteur could spur litigation by other families.

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