Government to Open National Embryonic Stem Cell Bank

( [email protected] ) Jul 14, 2004 06:23 PM EDT

The government is still refusing to cave into demands to lift Bush’s restrictive policy on embryonic stem cell research. Instead, the government plans to open The National Embryonic Stem Cell Bank, which will improve the chances of research on already approved embryonic stem cell lines.

The National Insitutes of Health (NIH) has also announced it will develop three “centers of excellence” devoted to speed research on the embryonic cell lines covered in the policy.

The National Embryonic Stem Cell Bank would get samples from today's 19 approved sources — companies or others who created them — and grow them under specially controlled conditions, reported The Associated Press.

That's important because today's hodgepodge of growing conditions can affect research outcomes, said NIH Director Elias Zerhouni. One central source also will lower the cost, from the $5,000 per shipment some researchers pay today to several hundred dollars, he said.

The "centers of excellence" would pair basic biologist who are today's prime stem cell researchers with physicians to accelerate research into useful therapies, Zerhouni said.

These efforts to further the research of available embryonic stem cells comes in midst of a national debate on the morality of the research. Scientists want to use embryos to harvest stem cells, which they believe could grow to replace any damaged tissue in humans. The wife and youngest son of the late President Ronald Reagan have been in the forefront pushing to widen the lines of embryonic stem cells which they believe will aide researchers in developing a cure for such diseases as Alzhiemer’s, the disease which resulted in Reagan’s death. The two were backed by a letter signed by 58 Senators and sent to the President earlier this month.

However, opponents of the research argue that human embryonic life would be destroyed in the process of harvesting stem cells from the embryos. They believe the potential to cure diseases lie in researching adult stem cells and keeping to the research on some 70 embryonic stem cell lines funded in Bush’s policy.

Proponent of embryonic stem cell research Sen. Orrin Hatch announced on July 4 there is wide support in the Senate to ease the Bush administration’s restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.

Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson disagreed, stating that the currently policy on embryonic stem cells should not be changed.

In a letter he wrote to send to members of Congress on Wednesday, Thompson said, "The president's embryonic stem cell policy holds tremendous and yet-untapped potential.”

He continued, “Before anyone can argue that the stem cell policy should be broadened, we must first exhaust the potential" of currently available lines.”

Some are not statisfied by the proposals.

Keith Yamamoto, executive vice medical dean at the University of California, San Francisco, a leading center of stem cell research, called the proposals “window dressing.”

He noted universities including UCSF and Harvard already are doing this so-called translational research using their own money.

He explained that when scientists call for more cell lines, they don’t want more of the same. “The fundamental questions we need to ask come partly from what we learn by deriving them,” he said.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif suggested the new proposal still leaves a “a cloud” over “important research.”

However, the NIH recently reported new successes using adult stem cells in research. Researchers were finally able to produce a mixture of periodontal ligament — including the specific fiber bundles that attach tooth to bone — and the mineralized tissue called cementum that covers the roots of the human teeth after implanting the human adult stem cells into rodents. They will now apply the research to larger animals.

Thompson also argued that federal funding of embryonic stem cell research did not exist before Bush made the policy in 2001 but now has reached $24.8 million — and says the new proposals should further accelerate it.