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Science News

Embryonic Stem Cell Research Expands With U.S. Funds

By Tom Randall and Rob Waters

(Bloomberg) -- Stem cell research in the U.S. will expand under rules that allow federal government funding for scientists working with unused embryos created at fertility clinics, freeing hundreds of cell lines for study.

The final guidelines released today by the National Institutes of Health increase the number of stem cell lines available for research from 20 to more than 700, the acting director of the agency, Raynard Kington, said in a conference call. Funding for new lines require documents showing the cells were donated, and stem cells being used for research and those from other countries can be approved by an NIH working group.

Embryonic stem cells can grow into any kind of tissue and may accelerate research into cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. President Barack Obama on March 9 lifted restrictions on U.S. government funding for the research imposed in 2001 by former President George W. Bush. The NIH received more than 49,000 comments on the draft rules.

The new rules are “a big step forward,” said Susan Solomon, chief executive officer of the New York Stem Cell Foundation, in a telephone interview today. The absence of a working group option “may well have been an oversight in the draft version.”

An earlier draft of the guidelines released for public feedback in April would have excluded some existing stem cell lines that didn’t meet all the requirements. The new rules ban U.S. funding to scientists using stem cells from embryos created solely for research purposes.

Limited Money

The NIH, a U.S. research agency, in 2008 awarded $88 million of its $938 million stem-cell budget for human embryonic research. The money was limited to scientists who worked from about 20 lines of stem cells. Some researchers said those limitations were too restrictive. The scientists turned to private donors and grants from states.

Today’s guidelines allow scientists working with embryonic stem cells to gain a share of the agency’s $10 billion from the economic stimulus bill, Kington said. The amount of money allotted for embryonic research hasn’t been capped and will be based on the quality of the proposals, he said.

“Opportunities for research will greatly expand, and we predict that there will be more research funded,” Kington said today. The guidelines will change over time to reflect “the evolution of the science,” he said.

Accelerate Research

Approved stem cell lines will be listed on a registry that research institutions can use for grant proposals, according to the agency’s Web site. The rules take effect tomorrow, and the first grants under the new system may be distributed by the end of the year.

The new rules require researchers to inform donors of all the options pertaining to use of the embryos. Donors must provide written consent and can’t receive any inducement or money in exchange for the donation. They must also provide a statement saying the donation isn’t intended to provide direct medical benefit to the donor.

“I expect that most existing lines will be found to have been ethically derived according to the core principles described in the NIH policy,” said Sean Morrison, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Stem Cell Biology, in an e-mail today. “This field is evolving at an incredibly rapid pace, and it may be necessary, down the road, to revisit some of the elements of this policy.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Tom Randall in New York at trandall6@bloomberg.net; Rob Waters in San Francisco at rwaters5@bloomberg.net.

 

Source Date: Jul 09 2009
Source Publication: Bloomberg
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