March 14, 2005

Dolly the Sheep’s Creator Gets Award

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- Dolly the sheep's British creator received Germany's most prestigious medical prize Monday amid criticism of the partly state-funded award by opponents of cloning.

About 40 protesters gathered outside the ceremony in Frankfurt to protest the award to Ian Wilmut, the head of the team that created Dolly at Scotland's Roslin Institute in 1996, calling on Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to voice opposition to the decision.

Inside, Wilmut said he would spend the $134,000 payment that comes with the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize on projects to help people with muscle ailments such as Parkinson's disease. Half of the prize money is provided by the German Finance Ministry.

"I am absolutely convinced that far more remains to be achieved in the future than has been achieved so far," Wilmut said. "Taken together, I believe that ambitious research cautiously applied has a great deal to contribute to human medicine in the next century."

The prize committee said in its citation that Wilmut's work had "fundamentally changed visions in embryology." It noted that "for Wilmut, it is also beyond that reproductive cloning of humans should be prohibited."

Last month, the British government Tuesday gave Wilmut a license to clone human embryos for medical research into the cause of motor neuron disease.

Wilmut and motor neuron expert Christopher Shaw of the Institute of Psychiatry in London plan to clone embyros to study how nerve cells go awry to cause the disease. The experiments do not involve creating cloned babies, but the license nonetheless prompted criticism from opponents of abortion and others.

German law bans creating embryo cells in the country purely for research purposes. Under a law passed in 2002, imports are allowed of stem cells produced before that year for projects of "overwhelming significance" where no other research method can be used.

The chairman of the foundation that awarded the prize, Hilmar Kopper, criticized the German stance.

"It's unlikely that a prizewinner will come from Germany again," Kopper said. "One cannot draw up restrictive regulations that force genetic technology from the country and at the same time insults science and businesses for leaving."

The prize has drawn criticism over recent days. A lawmaker with the opposition Christian Democrats in Hesse, which includes Frankfurt, last week accused the government of hypocrisy for partially funding an award to the "symbolic figure of cloning."

"Dr. Wilmut shouldn't now be courted when his questionable experiments would have to be investigated by prosecutors in Germany," Wintermeyer said.