WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) May 02 - The unsettled questions surrounding federal funding of research using human embryonic stem cells is causing researchers to shy away from promising avenues, a leading scientist said Wednesday.
"The political uncertainty about future funding of stem cell research is enough to turn off the tap of interest for young researchers in particular," said Dr. Douglas A. Melton, chairman of Harvard University's Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Dr. Melton said he thinks the reason only a handful of researchers filed applications for federal funding of research using embryonic stem cells is that writing such an application takes "at least 2 to 3 months" and there is no promise that such an application would even be considered.
Pending a scientific and ethical review, the Bush administration has put on hold guidelines issued last August allowing funding of such research in certain circumstances. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson told a House Appropriations subcommittee Wednesday that he expects to make a decision in early June.
But Lawrence Soler, of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and co-chair of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, which sponsored the conference call, said he is not convinced such a decision is forthcoming. "There's nothing restricting them from putting this on an indefinite hold and continuing the current situation," he said.
Dr. Melton said that while he supports research using stem cells from adults, he remains convinced that both embryonic and adult cells need to be examined more closely. "My view is we are presently so ignorant of which cells are likely to be useful for treatment, both avenues should be aggressively pursued," he said.
Opponents of the
use of embryonic stem cells have said that destroying potential human life
is unethical and that stem cells from other sources could be just as promising.
2001 Reuters Ltd.