Fewer Stem Cell Lines Available for Federally Funded Research Than Expected, Unpublished NIH Report Finds
Far fewer embryonic stem cell lines will be available for federally funded research than the number expected when President Bush in 2001 announced a policy limiting federally funded research to the 78 stem cell lines that had been created at that time, according to an unpublished NIH analysis, the Washington Post reports (Gillis/Weiss, Washington Post, 3/3). Bush on Aug. 9, 2001, announced a policy limiting federally funded stem cell research to embryonic stem cell lines created on or before that date (California Healthline, 2/12). Bush initially said that there were more than 60 embryonic stem cell lines that would qualify for federal funding under the regulation, a number that "helped to quell criticism" that the administration was limiting medical research that some scientists believe could lead to treatments for Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and other degenerative illnesses, according to the Post. The number of available stem cell lines later was determined to total 78. However, according to an unpublished NIH analysis and interviews that "circulat[ed]" on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, 17 of those cell lines have been withdrawn or failed to grow, 31 of the lines belong to foreign labs that NIH says have "no interest" in shipping them to U.S. researchers, seven lines have been shown to be duplicates of other lines and eight lines currently are unavailable to researchers but may become available later. According to the NIH analysis, there are only 15 stem cell lines currently available for federally funded research. In addition, some of the 15 cell lines available have developed "severe" genetic abnormalities and may be "useless" for creating therapies and "impractical" for research, according to the Post. NIH administrator James Battey said recently in an unpublished report to Congress that the "best-case scenario" under the Bush administration policy is that 23 cell lines will be available for federally funded research, according to the Post.
In a letter to Bush on Tuesday, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said that the administration is "misleading the public" by saying that its stem cell policy will allow "robust scientific research," according to the Post (Washington Post, 3/3). "It now appears that the administration may have misinformed the public ... on an issue of great public health significance," Waxman and Slaughter wrote in the letter (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 3/2). A group of House members, including some Republicans, is obtaining signatures for a letter calling on Bush to change the stem cell policy, the Post reports. In addition, scientific organizations have "stepped up" their efforts to push for a policy change, according to the Post. "I think the administration has been trying to implement the existing policy in good faith," Lawrence Soler of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation said, adding, "I think it's just come to a point now of having to face that we're not as far as we had hoped we'd be -- or even, we believe, where the administration had hoped we'd be." Some scientists have used private funds to conduct stem cell research, but the amount of private funds available is "limited," according to the Post. Bush administration officials have said that they will not change the policy, the Post reports. Bush spokesperson Trent Duffy said, "The president remains committed to exploring the promise of stem cell research but continues to firmly believe that we should not cross a fundamental moral line by funding or encouraging the destruction of human embryos" (Washington Post, 3/3).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.