More MS news articles for April 2001

Princeton president supports stem cell research

Updated 12:00 PM ET April 3, 2001
By Natasha Mitra
The Daily Princetonian
Princeton U.

(U-WIRE) PRINCETON, N.J. -- Princeton University President Shapiro recently joined with key leaders of 111 other academic institutions to advocate sustained federal funding for biomedical stem cell research.

"I have spent quite a lot of time thinking and working on this issue," said Shapiro, who chaired the President's National Bioethics Advisory Commission in 1999.

The group of college and university leaders signed a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson on March 26. The letter urged that "the current National Institute of Health guidelines governing human pluripotent stem cell research remain in effect."

The guidelines were devised last year to ensure that funding proceeded in "an ethical and legal manner."

Dr. Shirley Tilghman, director of the University's soon-to-be-built Institute for Integrative Genomics, chaired the National Institutes of Health committee that established these principles.

"I am a proponent of stem cell research," she said. "In addition to medical cures, it offers enormous promise to uncover more fundamental decisions made by cells during development."

The potential benefits of such research are extensive, according to the NIH. It may stimulate advances in the medical treatment of debilitating diseases, such as Parkinson's Disease, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, burns and spinal cord injuries.

Stem cells are distinctive in that they have the capacity to generate a variety of cell types. "Further research using human pluripotent stem cells may help scientists generate cells and tissue that could be used for transplantation," NIH said in its guidelines.

The debate over stem cell research is polarized by controversy surrounding abortion and embryo rights. The cells may be isolated from either embryonic or aborted fetal tissue.

"Some people believe an embryo has the moral status of a person," Shapiro said.

Shapiro also said that some opponents argue that "if you do something morally valuable with aborted fetuses, that may encourage people to have more abortions."

"There is a central ethical issue in the generation of stem cells," Tilghman concurred.

She went on to clarify, however, that early human embryos are constantly created for the purposes of in-vitro fertilization and often created in excess.

Policymakers in Washington have undertaken a review of the government's position on the issue.

Their assessment will address the potential inconsistency of stem cell research with the ideology of the new Bush administration.

"There exists an irony. Under federal law it is legal to isolate stem cells from fetuses, but illegal to use federal funds for embryonic research," Tilghman said. "[Stem cell's] unavailability to the broader scientific community is a roadblock."

In terms of the University's involvement in the project, Shapiro said he believes stem cell research is a promising cause, worthy of the University's support.

"I think that one of our ethical responsibilities for the future is to try to relieve human suffering, if that is possible," he said.

(C) 2001 The Daily Princetonian via U-WIRE