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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 13:20 EDT

Endocrine Society Calls For Expanded Scope And Funding For Stem Cell Research

October 27, 2009

Stem cell research holds great promise for the treatment of millions of Americans with debilitating and possibly fatal diseases. Current legislation and guidelines, however, continue to limit researchers’ endeavors in unlocking the potential breakthroughs that stem cell research can provide. To address this concern, today The Endocrine Society issued a Position Statement (http://www.endo-society.org/advocacy/policy) calling for an increase in NIH funding for stem cell research as well as expanding the scope of funding to include promising yet neglected areas of stem cell research.

Specifically, The Endocrine Society supports the following positions:

    * An increase in NIH funding for stem cell research;
    * An increase in the number of embryonic stem cell lines for NIH-funded research;
    * A broadening of the scope of federally funded research to include cells generated through somatic cell nuclear transfer;
    * Availability of federal funding for the derivation of embryonic stem cells from discarded in vitro fertilization (IVF) embryos and through somatic cell nuclear transfer;
    * Adherence to the highest ethical and scientific research standards; and
    * Federal oversight of embryonic stem cell research to assure ethical standards are always met.

Stem cells are unique in that they can be induced to become cells with special functions, such as the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas or the beating cells of the heart muscle. Stem cell research could lead to promising treatments for diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS and many others.

In 2001, President Bush imposed federal funding restrictions limiting the use of human embryonic stem cells. On March 9, 2009, President Obama signed Executive Order 13505 overturning the restriction in the previous policy. This important step allowed for a greater number of cell lines derived from IVF embryos to be qualified for use in federally funded research. While this change in policy benefits the advancement of scientific knowledge, the executive order does not address funding for promising research on cell lines derived from sources other than IVF embryos.

“No research in recent history has offered as much hope as stem cell research in treating such a large number of debilitating diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease,” said Robert Vigersky, MD, president of The Endocrine Society. “Our new position statement calls not only for an increase in NIH funding for stem cell research but also a broadening of the scope of federally funded research to include stem cells generated from sources other than IVF embryos, such as somatic cell nuclear transfer.”

Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) refers to the process of generating embryonic stem cells by injecting the nucleus of a non-stem cell into an unfertilized egg from which the nucleus has been removed. This process results in embryonic stem cells in which all the nuclear DNA and subsequently produced proteins are molecularly matched to those of the original non-stem cell. Because SCNT would generate stem cells with a patient’s precise nuclear genetic make-up, the patient could be treated with these cells without fear of rejection by the patient’s body.

“In light of the need for scientists to be able to generate disease-specific stem cells for research, the President’s executive order alone is insufficient as it does not take full advantage of the technology at our fingertips,” said Vigersky. “For the full potential of stem cell research to be reached, the amount of federal funding and the scope of that funding need to be expanded.”

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