Sunday, July 29, 2007

Future of Stem Cell Tests May Hang on Defining Embryo Harm By Rick Weiss

With the active encouragement of the Bush administration, U.S. scientists in the past year have developed several methods for creating embryonic stem cells without having to destroy human embryos.

But some who now wish to test their alternatively derived cells have found themselves stymied by an unexpected barrier: President Bush's stem cell policy.

The 2001 policy says that federal funds may not be used to study embryonic stem cells created after Aug. 9 of that year. It is based on the assumption that the only way to make the cells is by destroying human embryos -- a truism in 2001 but not any longer.

As a result, the National Institutes of Health recently refused to consider a grant application for what would have been the first federal study to compare several of the new, less politically contentious stem cell lines. ...

At the center of the debate is a new technique, pioneered by ACT [Advanced Cell Technology], that obtains stem cells from human embryos while leaving the embryos functionally intact. A single cell, called a blastomere, is removed from an eight-cell human embryo, then coaxed to multiply into a colony of stem cells in a dish. ...

Sean Tipton, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, a stem cell research advocacy group, said the policy amounts to a Catch-22.

"On the one hand, they're saying, 'Find this out,' " Tipton said, referring to the Bush administration's repeated call for scientists to find ways to make and study stem cells without destroying embryos. "On the other hand, they're saying, 'You're not allowed to do the research to answer these questions.' "...

My UW colleague Alta Charo is quoted further down in the story.
Federal stem cell policy certainly exemplifies the high degree of bureaucratic competence and regard for scientific expertise so characteristic of this Administration.

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