By Todd Zwillich
WASHINGTON, Sep 08 (Reuters Health) - A group of pro-life scientists and ethicists on Thursday urged Congress to reject federal rules that would allow federal funding of research involving human embryonic stem cells.
Representatives from the group, called Do No Harm, testified today before the Senate subcommittee responsible for funding the National Institutes of Health. The NIH issued its guidelines 2 weeks ago amid continuing controversy over the ethics and legality of using human embryos as a source of stem cells.
The group argued that research using adult stem cells is showing promise, especially for diseases like muscular dystrophy and lupus. Recent studies in mice have shown that stem cells taken from adults can form fully functional muscle cells when returned to the donor animals.
"We're saying that there is an alternative" to using embryos as a source for stem cells, Dr. David Prentice, a founding member of Do No Harm, told Reuters Health in an interview. "You do not have to destroy embryos to do the research."
The Senate hearing was the latest of several hearings on a bill that would allow federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research under limited circumstances. Both the bill and NIH's rules allow federal funding only of research using embryos meant for in vitro fertilization "that would otherwise be discarded," said Charles Robbins, a spokesman for bill sponsor Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.
Specter wants to fund embryonic research because it represents "a veritable fountain of youth" for patients with incurable cancers, neurologic disorders and immune diseases, he said. Proponents expect that the bill will come to the floor this month before the 106th Congress adjourns, Robbins said.
Several lawmakers remain vehemently opposed to any use of embryos for research, chief among them Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. He has argued that embryonic stem cell research is unethical and illegal, and he is expected to fight any attempt to bring the stem cell bill to a floor vote in the Senate.
More hearings on the issue are expected on Capitol Hill next week.