Australian scientists will be able to apply for a license to undertake therapeutic cloning research from mid-2007.

On 6 December, Australia's House of Representatives voted 82 to 62 in favor of a bill legalizing the creation of human embryos by somatic cell nuclear transfer and the harvesting of embryonic stem cells for research purposes.

The new law is a welcome move for Australian scientists, some of whom were rumored to be looking offshore for more supportive government regulations. In their campaign for the reforms, scientists avoided the term 'therapeutic cloning' to prevent any confusion with reproductive cloning.

If you started off with 'therapeutic cloning', you couldn't get to the explanation. Stephen Livesey, Australian Stem Cell Centre

“We used the term 'somatic cell nuclear transfer' so that we could then describe specifically what the technique was,” says Stephen Livesey, chief executive officer of the Australian Stem Cell Centre. “I found that if you started off with 'therapeutic cloning', you couldn't get to the explanation.”

The bill passed the Senate in November by the finest margin—34 to 32. Parliamentarians in both chambers were allowed a conscience vote, a rare freedom in a system where party-line voting is the norm.

Studies will be administered by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the main source of funding for medical research in Australia. Licensing guidelines and procedures are expected to be finalized by July 2007, when at least five research institutions are expected to submit applications.

The law allows for the creation of human embryos other than by fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm, stipulating that these embryos must not be implanted into a woman and must be destroyed after 14 days.

A previous version also allowed for the creation of chimeras—created by inserting human DNA into enucleated animal eggs—but a Senate amendment outlawed such research.

The bill mandates licenses for therapeutic cloning, with a penalty of imprisonment for up to ten years for creating an embryo without a license and up to five years for working with such an embryo without a license.