The minister for universities and research in the new government headed by Romano Prodi announced in Brussels this week that Italy will no longer support the ethical declaration against research on stem cells in Europe. The Berlusconi governments formal stand against research into stem cells was made only six months ago, together with Austria, Germany, Malta, Poland and Slovakia. The change of heart by Italys new government looks as though it will open the way for Italian stem cells including those from embryos - to be used for European research.

Many see the announcement as an opening for a change to Italys Legge 40 on assisted fertilisation. Passed in 2004, the law is one of the most conservative in Europe prohibiting, among other things, the freezing of multiple embryos that have not been inserted into the womb. Amendments to the law were put forward in a referendum last year, but came to nothing when the turnout for the referendum failed to meet the necessary quorum of 50 per cent plus one vote.