Thursday, December 3, 2009

Return to sanity means renewed focus on stem cells

U.S. residents got another reminder today of the major change in leadership they voted for last November when the National Institutes of Health announced approval of 13 new human embryonic stem cell lines for federally funded research, and said 96 more were under review. The NIH announcement was highly anticipated by researchers all over the United States, who were barred by former U.S. President George W. Bush from using federal money for research on all but the embryonic stem cell lines available in 2001 because of moral concerns, according to the New York Times. New U.S. President Barack Obama promised during the 2008 campaign to relax the ban in the interests of science and health, since stem cell research holds the promise of curing some of humanity's most-intractable maladies. Obama did so in March, two months after he took office. Concern over gathering stem cells has relaxed since the 2007 discovery that even adult cells could be reprogrammed to the embryonic stage, the Times said. Researchers applauded today's NIH announcement, because it helped to relieve them of the burden of separating their research into two parts -- research acceptable to the government, and eligible for public grants, and research that could only be paid for with private funding. “You can imagine what it meant not to be able to carry a pipette from one room to another,” Ali H. Brivanlou, a researcher at Rockefeller University in New York, told the Times. “They even had to repaint the walls to ensure no contamination by federal funds.” Brivanlou derived two of the 13 newly approved stem cell lines using private funding. The others were prepared by Dr. George Daley of Children’s Hospital Boston, the Times said. Daley told the newspaper that private funding was hard to get and getting harder, and that he was looking forward to being able to use federal grants to fund his research. Since that date, biomedical researchers supported by the N.I.H. have had to raise private money to derive the cells, which are obtained from the fertilized embryos left over from in vitro fertility clinics. NIH director Francis Collins said he thought most researchers would be happy with the decision, even though they still were barred from deriving stem cells themselves. Collins also said induced embryonic cells were not exactly the same as those derived from fertilized human embryos, so researchers still needed to use both kinds.

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