April 8, 2009 / 3:27 AM / 10 years ago

China looks to expand stake in stem cell technology

BEIJING, April 8 (Reuters) - China will build Asia’s biggest base to develop uses for stem cell medical technology, which the health minister described as having huge potential for development, a Hong Kong newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Stem cell techniques use the body’s master cells to create new cells that medical researchers hope can be used to fight diseases and heal injuries. Chinese Health Minister Chen Zhu said his country could become a leader in finding uses for the technology.

"The stem cell and regenerative medicine sector is one of China’s new high-tech biological sectors with the strongest development potential," Chen said in a message marking the launch of the project in eastern Jiangsu province on Tuesday, according to the the Ta Kung Pao, a mainland-run Hong Kong paper.

"Accelerating the development of this sector will be important for lifting people’s standard of living and health."

China is looking to expand its stake in this increasingly competitive area, where it has few of the regulatory controls and controversies that have constrained research elsewhere.

Former President George W. Bush and some religious conservatives have opposed the use of stem cells taken from human embryos. But U.S. President Barack Obama has reversed Bush’s policy that virtually froze federal funding for stem cell research using embryonic samples.

Singapore is also looking to emerge as a regional centre for the technology.

China’s base will be in Taizhou, an area of Jiangsu with many medical and pharmaceutical businesses, and will cover 20,000 square metres and include a clinic, said the report. It did not say when the project will be completed. (Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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