LONDON — Ian Wilmut, who led the team that cloned Dolly the sheep in 1996, has been granted a license to clone human embryos and extract stem cells from them to study how nerve cells go awry in illnesses such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
The experiments do not involve creating cloned babies, but the granting of the license Tuesday nonetheless stirred controversy.
Julia Millington of the London-based ProLife Alliance said: "All human cloning is intrinsically wrong and should be outlawed. However, the creation of cloned human embryos destined for experimentation and subsequent destruction is particularly abhorrent."
Wilmut, speaking after the announcement in Edinburgh, Scotland, defended the research.
"We all take for granted the very much healthier life that we have now compared with people 100 years ago," he said. "I think that the majority of people support this type of research and hope it will be successful in helping to bring useful treatment."
Stem cells are able to develop into any kind of tissue.
Wilmut and Christopher Shaw plan to clone cells from patients with a disease, derive stem cells from the resulting embryo, make them develop into nerve cells and compare their evolution to that of cells derived from healthy embryos.