Skip to comments.U.S. Rule on Stem Cell Studies Lets Researchers Use New Lines
Posted on 08/06/2002 10:13:03 PM PDT by gcruse
When President Bush opened the door to human embryonic stem cell research a year ago this week, he imposed strict limits on federal financing to discourage the destruction of embryos. But in a little-noticed ruling, the administration later told federally financed researchers they could go beyond the president's strictures as long as they did so with private money.
In a prime-time television address on Aug. 9, 2001, the first of his presidency, Mr. Bush said scientists could use taxpayer dollars only to study those self-sustaining colonies, or lines, of cells that had already been extracted from human embryos.
"This allows us to explore the promise and potential of stem cell research," Mr. Bush said then, "without crossing a fundamental moral line by providing taxpayer funding that would sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos."
That policy still stands. But in March, in an interpretation that attracted little public attention, the National Institutes of Health determined that federally financed researchers could indeed study new stem cell lines and even derive them from embryos in their university laboratories, provided that they do not commingle their federal and private money.
The interpretation was approved by senior administration officials, who did not go out of their way to publicize it. Still, it has been heartening to proponents of stem cell science because the research has moved far more slowly than they expected in the year since Mr. Bush's speech. Technical difficulties, as well as the political controversy, have kept stem cell lines from reaching researchers and have dampened scientific interest, experts say.
The ruling by the institutes "is a big deal," said Dr. Robert A. Goldstein, chief scientific officer of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which pushed for the policy interpretation. "As long as you bookkeep properly, you can study lines created beyond Aug. 9."
Dr. Goldstein and other experts said the institutes' interpretation lifted an important barrier to stem cell research by clarifying what scientists can and cannot do in their university laboratories.
Since 1994, Congress has prohibited federal financing for embryo experiments, and Mr. Bush's announcement last year was in keeping with that ban. So most academic researchers steered clear of conducting embryo studies even with private money. The few who did so set up entirely separate laboratories with private dollars, for fear that using the equipment in their university laboratories would put them in jeopardy of losing their government grants.
That fear persisted after Mr. Bush announced his policy, said Tony Mazzaschi, associate vice president for research at the American Association of Medical Colleges. "There was some skittishness by our institutions," he said. "This is a hot potato. They wanted clarity."
Wendy Baldwin, the health institutes official in charge of putting the president's policy in place, said she issued the ruling to clear up any confusion, adding that it was consistent with federal regulations governing other types of research.
Indeed, Douglas Johnson, a spokesman for the National Right-to-Life Committee, which strongly opposes any embryo experiments, said he was not surprised by the administration's conclusion.
Dr. Baldwin said: "This is a business-as-usual interpretation. Our goal has been to mainstream this line of research."
Yet a year after Mr. Bush entered the delicate moral and scientific debate over stem cell research, the science is anything but mainstream.
The president's promise that dozens of stem cell lines would be available to federally financed scientists has not materialized. Dr. Baldwin said that only 17 lines were easily accessible to researchers and that only a handful of those were actually used in experiments.
At the same time, scientists have avoided the field. So far, the health institutes have awarded only four stem cell research grants, though private experiments are proceeding.
"It's a conspiracy of a number of minor factors," said Douglas Melton, a stem cell scientist at Harvard. "The best and the brightest young people who are attracted to the science are generally put off by the enormous amount of administrative headaches on the one hand, combined with the controversy on the other."
Dr. Melton, who receives a mix of private and federal financing, said he had derived new stem cell lines in his laboratory. "Some of these presidential lines aren't as robust as we'd like," he said, referring to the lines covered by Mr. Bush's announcement. "That's why we have gone through the trouble to derive our own lines. But it's still early days."
Mr. Mazzaschi complained that "a toxic research environment" discouraged scientists. Even so, he praised the institutes for "implementing a flawed policy about as well as anyone."
But federal officials, and even scientists, say that the political controversy is not the only reason research is slow. The issue of intellectual property has proved a stumbling block; some commercial owners of stem cell lines are not quite ready to share them. The 17 readily available lines are covered by research agreements between their owners and the health institutes; other agreements are being negotiated, Dr. Baldwin said.
There are technical difficulties as well. Stem cells are tricky to study and trickier to grow, and some lines are not ready to be shipped. So the institutes issued five "infrastructure grants" to help companies and academic institutions that own the lines distribute them. The University of California at San Francisco, which has two lines, was given one.
"Most of the effort in the last year has gone into getting these cells grown up to a stage and to an abundance where we are ready to meet the demand for them," said Jennifer O'Brien, a university spokeswoman.
The NYT's and the other Liberal Rags have an agenda and anyone with half of a mind can see that the NYT's wants to divide conservatives by distorting the facts of a year ago and reversing their original editorial response to this issue. Much like the other Liberal Rags around the country, They can't be trusted to present the facts in and open and fair manner. THAT'S WHERE WE COME IN HERE AT FR. EMAIL THEM AND RAISE HELL :-)
The president can only decide what his budget will fund or not fund. Private funding for any particular research is a very hard thing to stop when it comes to legislation. Mainly because of the broad brush legislation has a tendacy to cover.
This is nothing other than a desperate attempt to smear the President's stand against the use of "Living" Embryo's and not his position on existing Embrionic Stem cell research on previously destroyed "embryo's.
So most academic researchers steered clear of conducting embryo studies even with private money. The few who did so set up entirely separate laboratories with private dollars, for fear that using the equipment in their university laboratories would put them in jeopardy of losing their government grants.
That is just a silly hoop through which to jump and complicates research for everyone when research itself is difficult enough. I fault the government for being involved in funding research. It simply is not a proper function of government and leads not only to the complications here, but also to the use of money extracted from people who find the money's use morally wrong. I also fault those researchers who seek out and accept government money.
The second issue is stem cell research itself. Of course it should proceed....
Gee, what a surprise.