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Iran in the forefront when it comes to stem cell research

By Aneesh Raman
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In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences covering news and analyze the stories behind the events.

Tehran, IRAN (CNN) -- It is a country where the call to prayer echoes throughout the capital every morning, where women must cover their heads at all times, where a Supreme Leader has the final say over everything.

But when it comes to stem cell research, Iran is cutting edge. Iran has some of the most liberal laws on stem cell research. Scientists say the clergy here define life as beginning three months after conception, which gives scientists access to human embryonic stem cells left over from fertilization trials.

Scientists here are testing treatments on mice for everything from heart disease to multiple sclerosis. And they claim to have successfully cloned a sheep last month and that the sheep is still alive. Foreign observers have been invited to verify the claim.

We traveled both to a government run laboratory and a private hospital in Tehran. Men and women were laboring over microscopes and Petri dishes. And all told us things that most scientists in the West would envy. "It's quite open, we can do our work very easily, we don't have any restriction, any problem," one of the country's leading stem cell researchers told me.

Iranian history, going back to the Persian empire, is laced with scientific achievements and one doctor told me, "the scientists would now like to go back to this era and for this reason young scientists are really excited."

The new-found pride is not just about stem cells. It's also about nuclear energy. The fact that Iranian scientists figured out how to enrich uranium without having to do so in a foreign country is a big reason the people and politicians say they won't back down from the United Nations' demands to stop.

It seems science of all kinds is pushing ahead in Iran without pause.


CNN correspondent Aneesh Raman finds scientists in Tehran are doing cutting-edge work on stem cell research.

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