More MS news articles for Sep 2001

NAS Calls for Broader Stem Cell Research Funding

WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) Sept 12 - An expert committee of the National Academy of Sciences is calling for broader federal funding of embryonic stem cell research than President Bush has announced he will allow.

"Private, for-profit research typically translates the fruits of basic research into medical advances that are widely available to the public, but industry may be reluctant to invest in efforts that could take many years to yield commercial applications," said a report by the NAS's National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. "Without government funding of basic research on stem cells, progress toward medical therapies is likely to be hindered."

On August 9, President Bush said the Department of Health and Human Services would fund research on stem cells from human embryos, but only from cell lines already in existence at the time of his announcement. The administration originally claimed that 64 lines from around the world would be eligible, but HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson conceded at a Senate hearing last week that only about two dozen lines are currently viable.

Regardless of the number, the chair of the committee that wrote the report said the limitations imposed by the President will result in an insufficient supply of stem cells.

"New embryonic stem cell lines will need to be developed in the long run to replace existing lines that become compromised by age, and to address concerns about culture with animal cells and serum that could result in health risks for humans," said Dr. Bert Vogelstein, professor of oncology and pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

The report also concluded that broader public funding could hasten the research by reducing proprietary restrictions that private owners may put on investigators, and allow for "greater opportunities for regulatory oversight and scrutiny of research."

The committee also made what they termed a controversial recommendation that research continue on human cloning techniques as a way to turn the promise of stem cells into actual medical treatments.

"Whenever tissue transplantation takes place...there is always a risk that the body's immune system will reject the new biological material, with life-threatening implications," according to the report.

"To ensure that stem cell transplantation therapies can be broadly applied to treat many illnesses and individuals, new means to overcome tissue rejection must be found. A technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer, which can be used to create stem cells that are a genetic match to the patient, may be one way to do this."

The House has passed legislation that would make that procedure, as well as attempts to use cloning to produce a live birth, a federal crime. The bill, which has been endorsed by the Bush administration, is pending in the Senate.

Copyright © 2001 Reuters Ltd