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U.S. stem cell line deemed too risky

Use of federally approved stem cells unethical, panel finds

November 11, 2003
Associated Press

A medical ethics panel said Monday it would be unethical and risky to treat people with the embryonic stem cells approved by President Bush for federally funded research. The approved cell lines, created for possible future disease treatments, were initially grown on mouse cells. That could expose humans to an animal virus their immune systems couldn’t fight, the panel said. The experts said that safer stem cell lines now exist, but those would not be eligible for federal funding.

The ethics panel announcement was the latest sign of the friction between stem cell scientists and Bush, who two years ago set limits on the controversial research which destroys human embryos.

Earlier this year, the director of the National Institutes of Health called on the president to lift his restrictions. And a number of scientists note that research into stem cells is progressing overseas.

A spokesman with Bush’s Health and Human Services Department said no one was available to comment on the ethics panel finding.

The medical ethics panel, which included scientists, philosophers, ethicists and lawyers from the United States and Europe, was formed by Johns Hopkins University to study the ethical questions arising as stem cells move from research to human trials and, possibly, to human therapy.

Embryonic stem cells have the ability to grow into all kinds of cells, and they are sought as potential treatments for victims of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and spinal cord injuries.

But because embryos discarded from fertility clinics are a major source of stem cells, the issue has sparked an ethical debate.

On Aug. 9, 2001, the president announced that federal money would be granted for research using only stem cell lines created by that date. That way, he hoped to stop the destruction of future human embryos.

Anti-abortion groups say stem cell research is tantamount to murder because it starts with the destruction of a human embryo to recover the cells.

And Pope John Paul II on Monday denounced as “morally contradictory” any medical treatment based on stem cells taken from embryo tissue. Vatican teaching holds that life begins at conception.

Copyright © 2003, Associated Press