NIH lifts some restrictions on embryonic stem cell funding

April 17, 2009

(Chattahbox) — In a move guaranteed to cause widespread delight for scientists, and some heated debate, President Obama and his team have announced plans to lift several financial restrictions on stem cell research that were enacted by President Bush.

The new proposal, reviewed in today’s New York Times, would restrict federal funding to research done on stem cells gathered from unwanted embryos at fertility clinics. Any research that would create such material on purpose will still be denied access to such government grants.

The ink on these proposals is not even dry, yet science has already found flaws; Some experts believe the new rules will restrict research on creating new organs to help transplant patients. The regulations also require that a donor be told how the cells will be used,  and this may render some of the cell lines approved under President Bush utterly useless to anyone whose research is dependent on federal funds.

Overall, however, reaction is good; “This is an important advance that allows for a huge increase in funding of stem cell lines,” Dr. Raynard S. Kington, Acting Director of the National Institutes of Health, told reporters. “It will be a huge boost for the science in this area.”

The recent, much-criticized stimulus plan includes $10-billion for new stem cell research, and officials at the N.I.H. have already approved more than twenty new projects. But these cannot start until the new rules receive their final approval from Congress; And that could take time.

Last year, 260 projects received a total of just $88-million in funding for work done with Bush-approved cells. The new rules will induce dramatic and much-needed change, “We’re likely to greatly increase the number of stem cell lines eligible for funding,” Dr. Kington told reporters. “Ultimately, this will have a significant impact on human health and the threat of disease.”

President Obama’s new guidelines will be published next week, and the N.I.H. and other health bodies will invite comments for just 30-days. Any revisions will then become part of the rules, which will be reviewed on a regular basis, and can still be changed or updated if the need should arise.

This is the third time such a bill has been presented to Congress. The other two passed, but were vetoed by President Bush. Dr. Kington is sure this third time’s the charm, “We have proposed guidelines that are appropriate for where we are now,” he told the press. “There is broad support for this.” he explained.

His confidence, however, is not wholly shared by some of his peers; Many scientists are worried the new bill prohibits therapeutic cloning or the use of a patient’s own cells, either of which are important ideas in matching organs before transplantation. But Dr. Kington does not see a problem as neither procedure has ever succeeded in humans. And his lack of alarm is well-founded; Under the new rules, Doctors would have the scope to create thousands of lines, each one completely unique, thus effectively eliminating any real chance of an organ’s rejection by the recipient patent.

The new proposals also come with commendable layers of safety; It is made very clear that only embryos made for reproductive procedures can be used by researchers with federal funds; Also, each donor must be fully informed of her options, and that whatever they decide can be done with the embryo cannot and must not affect their quality of care. It is also required that the Doctor charged with providing that care and the researcher who ultimately receives the donation should be different people, to avoid any conflict.

The new bill will be ready for voting by July 7th. How soon it becomes law is then dependent on Congress.


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