More MS news articles for Sep 2001

Report: Not enough stem cell lines

Bush order too limited, says scientific academy

WASHINGTON, Sept. 11 —  The nation’s scientific academy on Tuesday reported that new embryonic cell lines will be necessary in the future, not just the 60 or so lines permitted to receive federal funds under an order by President Bush. The National Academy of Sciences also called for continued federal funding for the research.

AND IT URGES that, because stem cell research is raising ethical questions, an advisory group be created at the National Institutes of Health to oversee research on human embryonic cells.
Stem cells are the basic building blocks of the body’s parts. Scientists are trying to learn how to coax them to become new, healthy cells to rejuvenate, restore and repair ailing hearts, livers, brains and other organs.
“Given the promise of stem cell research for treating and perhaps curing a variety of debilitating diseases, our committee felt strongly that research not be limited, but include work on both human adult and embryonic stem cells,” said Bert Vogelstein, chairman of the committee that prepared the report.
But obtaining embryonic stem cells, those that are most versatile, requires the destruction of a human blastocyst, one of the earliest forms of the embryo.
That raises ethical questions that prompted Bush to order that federal funds be used only for work on cell lines that already exist, not on any newly developed ones.
Vogelstein, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a statement accompanying the report that “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 that could result in risks for humans.”
Over time, all cell lines kept in laboratories accumulate harmful mutations and there is no reason to expect stem cells to be any different, the report said.
In addition, human embryonic stem cells are nurtured in lab dishes with the help of irradiated mouse feeder cells. The irradiation kills certain germs, but may not kill viruses.

The Food and Drug Administration requires proof that scientists used healthy mice and properly performed all available infection tests.
Scientists have also raised questions about the suitability of many of the existing cell lines for research, noting that many are in the very early stages of development.
That criticism is unfair, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson has said, contending that many of the lines in earlier stages will develop over the next several months.
The report, “Stem Cells and the Future of Regenerative Medicine,” says federal funding is the most efficient means for promoting basic research, which is necessary in this case.

Stem-cell research is in its infancy, far from the point of providing benefits to sick people, the report said.
While private, for-profit research can be instrumental in translating basic research into medical advances, industry is unlikely to invest in work that may take many years, the panel said.

In addition, it noted that providing federal money for the work also offers the opportunity for regulatory supervision.
Because of the potential ethical questions of the research, the panel also urged the establishment of an NIH advisory committee similar to the panel overseeing gene therapy research.
The report, expected to be available online later Tuesday, was prepared by a joint committee of the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine. The two groups are part of the National Academy of Science, an independent organization chartered by Congress to advise the government on scientific matters.
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