United Press International- June 11, 2001
WASHINGTON, Jun 08, 2001 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- A bill to establish a national donor bank for non-embryonic stem cells was introduced Friday in the House of Representatives.
Sponsored by Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., H.R. 2096, the Responsible Stem Cell Research Act of 2001, would also create a $30 million annual authorization to accelerate research into adult stem cells rather than the more controversial embryonic cells.
The debate over whether adult stem cells hold the same potential for treating disease as do those taken from discarded embryos in the earliest stages of development has polarized the biomedical research community and legislators concerned with medical progress.
Researchers believe fetal stem cells have the potential to cure a wide range of diseases and medical conditions. However, because these cells are harvested from aborted fetuses and unwanted embryos from fertility clinics, these same scientists fear President Bush may bring federal funding for such research to an abrupt halt.
"Adult stem cells are already being used to treat many diseases, such as brain tumors, ovarian cancer, leukemia, breast cancer non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and autoimmune diseases," Smith told reporters at a briefing on the bill. "But we can do much more with adult stem cells."
The measure was co-signed by 45 other members of Congress. "Studies have shown that sufficient numbers of adult stem cells can be generated in culture for clinical applications," said David Prentice, professor of life sciences at Indiana State University in Terre Haute. "Even one transplanted adult stem cell from bone marrow could possibly regenerate tissue in several parts of the body."
The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees how federal research money is spent, is reviewing the issue but has yet to indicate whether further restrictions or an outright ban on all use of embryonic stem cells will be forthcoming.
A National Institutes of Health moratorium on research using stem cells derived from human embryos and fetal tissue was lifted on Aug. 25, 2000 when the agency issued new guidelines. During the comment period prior to the change, NIH received approximately 50,000 comments from members of Congress, patient advocacy groups, scientific societies, religious organizations and private citizens.
Under the guidelines, researchers receiving federal funding could not conduct experiments using stem cells derived from aborted and/or discarded fetuses. They could, however, use cells from fetuses discarded by private researcher centers.
Opponents of such experiments point to a number of recent studies that have shown adult stem cells harvested from bone marrow, cord blood and other non-embryonic sources are capable of transforming themselves into a number of different cells, much like those from fetal tissue.
Dr. Robyn Shapiro, an attorney and professor of ethics at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, told United Press International that while it is encouraging that adult stem cells are proving able to differentiate in the treatment of disease, the bulk of stem cell research supports continued use of embryonic cells.
"It's hard to argue against a bill like this, but the fact remains that embryonic stem cells show more promise toward helping people with disease," Shapiro said. "It's not generally accepted that adult stem cells are as useful, nor as promising."
Copyright 2001 by United Press International.