More MS news articles for Dec 2001

Government grant given to cloning company

The Commerce Department in October awarded $1.9-million to Advanced Cell Technology for noncloning research

published December 4, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Even though President Bush opposes human cloning, his administration has awarded a $1.9-million grant for a related type of cell research to the Massachusetts company that last week announced it had successfully cloned human embryos.

The money was awarded by the Commerce Department in October to Advanced Cell Technology, a biotechnology firm headquartered in Worcester, Mass. While the grant is supposed to be used for research on adult cells -- not cloning -- some members of Congress who oppose cloning on moral grounds were upset to learn about it.

News of federal support for Advanced Cell Technology comes as Congress is seriously considering a ban on all types of cloning.

On Monday, the Senate voted against a procedural effort to quickly consider a six-month ban on all cloning. But a Senate subcommittee will hold a hearing today on a bill written by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., to impose a permanent ban. The House passed a measure similar to Brownback's bill last July.

Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., told Commerce Secretary Don Evans in a letter made available Monday that he opposes giving any federal money to Advanced Cell Technology. "I am distressed to learn taxpayer money is being used to essentially reward a corporation engaging in the unconscionable behavior of human cloning," he said.

Barr noted that Advanced Cell Technology has made no secret of its efforts to clone human embryos or its plans to move its research to another country if Congress bans cloning.

"I do not believe taxpayers' hard-earned money should be given to a corporation engaging in behavior the vast majority of Americans believe, as the president does, to be clearly wrong," Barr said.

Bush, who opposes human cloning, announced last week he was creating the President's Council on Bioethics to study ethical issues surrounding biotechnology, including embryo and stem cell research.

The president also reaffirmed his opposition to the use of human embryos for cloning. "We should not as a society grow life to destroy it," he said. "And that's exactly what's taking place. . . . It's morally wrong in my opinion."

Last summer, the president declared that research on existing stem cell lines could be funded with federal money but that the government would not support research that involved the destruction of additional embryos. The existing stem cells came from human embryos that were created by in vitro fertilization and were going to be destroyed.

Currently, private companies that do not receive public funds can still create new stem cell lines. The president's cloning decree was silent on whether these companies could proceed with their stem cell research while getting government money for related projects.

At the Commerce Department, spokesman Trevor Francis said he did not know whether administration officials were aware of Advanced Cell Technology's work on human embryos when they awarded the company money for research involving adult cells.

"Even if we knew," Francis said, "under the terms of the grant, this money cannot be used for human cloning. This grant was made under the law and abiding with the president's prohibition on human cloning."

When the grant was announced in October, the Commerce Department said the company used it to "develop technology to efficiently transform a patient's own mature cells in culture to various differentiated neuronal cells without going through a stem cell-like stage, without creating embryos, and without the need for fetal tissue, for eventual use in autologous cell transplantation therapies for degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, or multiple sclerosis."

In other words, the project is looking for an alternative to cloning to accomplish the same result.

Executives of Advanced Cell Technology could not be reached for comment Monday. But they have said in the past that they are not interested in cloning embryos to make babies. Instead, they say their purpose in cloning human embryos is to create new stem cells. This is known as therapeutic cloning, which seeks to create replacement tissue for people with degenerative diseases.

The Senate vote Monday was not entirely about cloning. Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi wanted to attach both a six-month cloning ban and the president's energy bill to another piece of legislation being considered on the Senate floor. Senators voted 81-15 to prevent it.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., indicated the measures would be considered again in January, and Lott added: "These issues are not going to go away." Many lawmakers are pressing for action on cloning before the Congress adjourns later this month.

Michael West, CEO of Advanced Cell Technology, is scheduled to testify today before the Senate appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services.

© Copyright 2001 St. Petersburg Times