* European Parliament debating funding for 2014 to 2020
* Scientists fear cuts to embryonic stem cell research
* Experts say cutting funds would hold back entire field
LONDON, June 15 (Reuters) - Leading scientists, biomedical research bodies and patient groups urged the European Parliament on Friday to maintain vital European Union funding for studies using embryonic stem cells.
Hailing the field as "one of the most exciting and promising" in modern biomedical research, the group said they feared research grants currently under review may be under threat from pro-life European parliamentarians who say public funds should not be spent on embryonic stem cell work.
"(EU) Commission funding must be available to continue to support scientists investigating all types of stem cells - including human embryonic stem cells - with potential to make advances in regenerative medicine," they wrote in an open letter released by the Wellcome Trust, a charitable health foundation.
The European Parliament is currently debating the future outline of Horizon (Euronext: HOR.NX - news) 2020, the EU's programme for research and innovation which will run from 2014 to 2020.
Draft rules provide for stem cell research funding, including embryonic stem cells but some member states have been lobbying for embryonic stem cell research to be excluded.
Many scientists believe stem cell research has the potential to lead to the development of treatments for a whole host of diseases including incurable neurodegenerative illnesses such as Parkinson's, motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis, as well as type 1 diabetes, various serious heart conditions, liver damage, spinal cord damage and blindness.
Europe (Chicago Options: ^REURUSD - news) , and particularly Britain, is considered a world leader in stem cell research. The experts, from charities, funding bodies and patient groups, said if Europe is to hold on to this competitive edge, it is crucial to maintain funding for all stem cell research.
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Researchers urge EU not to cut stem cell funding
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