Scientists from two European-funded groups - EuroStemCell (European Consortium for Stem Cell Research) and ESTOOLS - are working together to call for a relaxation of current laws, particularly in Germany and Italy, in the hope that their European counterparts are able to collaborate on international projects without fear of legal reprisal.

Currently, stem cell legislation differs across Europe. Projects that are perfectly legal in Sweden and the UK could result in a three-year prison sentence in Germany. Researchers from countries with very restrictive legislation might also become liable by taking on coordinating positions in other European institutions.

Professor Peter Andrews, from the University of Sheffield’s Centre for Stem Cell Biology and coordinator of the ESTOOLS consortium, said: “Despite common funding through the 6th and 7th framework of the European Commission, current legislation means that scientists within Europe cannot freely exchange personnel and cell lines.

“This has huge consequences for stem cell research in Europe, limiting the ability of researchers with different expertise in different countries to work together for the common good.”

Austin Smith, Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research, added: “EuroStemCell scientists from across Europe are working together to compare embryonic and tissue stem cells and their potential for medical applications. However, the situations in Germany and Italy present constant difficulties because our colleagues in these countries may be punished for taking part in research activities of the project.”

The announcement by the scientists follows the joint workshop on ‘Ethical aspects of stem cell research in Europe’ held in Berlin in April this year.