European Court of Justice delivers a blow to stem cell research

In what some scientists decry as a devastating blow to an emerging field of medical research, Europe's top court has banned patenting any stem-cell process involving destruction of a human embryo.

According to researchers, the ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) would hobble development in an area of science that held promise for delivering medicines to cure diseases ranging from Parkinson's to blindness.

Stem-cell technology has been controversial because some cell lines are derived from embryos. With the decision, ECJ has extended protection to human embryos by blocking patents.

''A process which involves removal of a stem cell from a human embryo at the blastocyst stage, entailing the destruction of that embryo, cannot be patented,'' it said.

Blastocyst is the stage just before implantation into the womb, with the embryo consisting of 80 to 100 cells.

The decision has been hailed by Christian groups in Europe  and the European Centre for Law and Justice in Strasbourg said it ''protects life and human dignity'' at all stages of development, while the Anscombe Bioethics Centre in Oxford welcomed it as ''a triumph of ethical standards over commercial interest.''