December 2, 2009

Initial Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Approved

The government approved on Wednesday the use of the first 13 batches of embryonic stem cells for federally funded research under relaxed restrictions announced by President Barack Obama in March.

Scores of additional batches, known as lines, should soon be available, the government said.

The privately funded batches were made by two researchers at Harvard University and Rockefeller University, according to Dr. Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

President Obama's decision to loosen restrictions on stem cell research frees researchers and others to use federal funds to work with the lines.

"Today we are announcing the approval of the first 13 stem cell lines," Dr. Collins told Reuters.

"We have now reached the point where we have stem cell lines that are declared eligible for use under this new policy."

In March, President Obama lifted restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research put in place by President George W. Bush. However, he could not unwind a restriction set by Congress, known as the Dickey-Wicker amendment, which bans the use of federal funds to create the stem cells "“ something that requires the destruction of a human embryo.

But Obama's decision allows researchers to use federal money to work with cells that others have made.

The NIH created a panel to establish guidelines that determined which stem cell lines met firm ethical restrictions.  For instance, the cells must have been made with embryos donated from fertility clinics, with parents required to give their approval by signing comprehensive consent forms.

The NIH guidelines incorporate many of the arguments that have surfaced during the decade-long debate over how best to harness the potential of human embryonic stem cells. 

These cells have the power to differentiate into all the cells and tissues in the body. 

Supporters of embryonic stem cell research believe such cells can transform medicine, while opponents object to the destruction of human embryos for any reason whatsoever.  Dr. Collins said the general public supports the use of human embryonic stem cells made from leftover cells at IVF clinics.


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