Some applaud, question new rules on using embryonic stem cells in research — MedCity Morning Read, July 7, 2009

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Embryonic stem cells, National Science FoundationWASHINGTON, D.C. — The Obama administration on Monday issued final guidelines about using embryonic stem cells in research, and at the same time, announced rules that are expected to make even more stem cell lines available for lab work, according to the Wall Street Journal Health blog. The guidelines take effect today.

Stem cells are primitive cells that can develop into many types of human tissue. Use of embryonic stem cells is controversial because the cells often come from human embryos, destroying them. Embryonic stem cells also can do unpredictable things — like grow into tumors instead of heart muscle. President Barack Obama made freeing up existing embryonic stem cell lines for research one of his  commitments.

In the administration’s preliminary guidelines outlined by the National Institutes of Health in April, only stem cells from left-over embryos at fertility clinics that would have otherwise been discarded and that donors agreed to give would have been eligible for federal funding, the Journal said. Now, the administration is saying that hundreds of embryonic stem cell lines developed before the guidelines, as long at the cell lines were developed ethically, the Washington Post said.

That means use of some 700 embryonic stem cell lines in research now can receive federal funding. While use of embryonic stem cells was not prohibited by the Bush administration, federal funding for research was limited to a small number of cell lines, the Post said.

As expected, the move drew praise from advocates of stem cell research and bitter criticism from opponents. “These revised NIH policies, which make many more embryonic stem cell lines available to federally funded scientists, will dramatically accelerate progress in this field,” said Sean J. Morrison, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Stem Cell Biology, in a written statement. “I expect that most existing lines will be found to have been ethically derived … This will eventually make hundreds of new stem cell lines available for use by NIH-funded scientists.”

And the opposing view: “For the first time in history, the federal government will encourage the destruction of human life at a very early stage for federally funded research,” Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told the Washington Post. “These guidelines encourage researchers to go out and destroy embryos for taxpayer-funded research … You and I were once human embryos, and each embryo has the inherent potential to grow into you and me.”

Meanwhile, Stanford University School of Medicine thinks the new guidelines stop short of supporting two techniques to derive embyonic stem cells in animals. “The policy banning funding of other stem lines produced by transferring the genetic material from a patient to an egg is a terrible disappointment,” said Dr. Irving Weissman, a stem cell researcher at the school, in a written statement. “It seems inconsistent with the president’s promise to allow scientific facts to determine science policy.”

Some lawmakers in states like Michigan and Ohio, however, are working according to their consciences to keep limits on embryonic stem cells used in research.

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Mary Vanac

By Mary Vanac

Mary Vanac is a co-founder of MedCity News.
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