A Japanese science ministry committee announced a plan on 22 April to loosen regulations on research involving embryonic stem cells (ES cells).

Scientists have complained about the current excessively bureaucratic system whereby they must seek permission for such work from a ministerial commission. The commission meets only rarely, and sometimes requests extra data from animal experiments to justify human research.

Under the new plan, expected to be approved by the Council for Science and Technology Policy, ES-cell researchers will only have to gain approval from their local institutional review board.

From May, the ministry will also free up the previously forbidden creation of cloned human embryos, although only for basic research into serious diseases.