NIH Announces Plans To Open National Embryonic Stem Cell Bank
NIH has announced plans to open a National Embryonic Stem Cell Bank and three "centers of excellence" to advance research on human embryonic stem cell lines that are currently allowed under federal funding restrictions, the AP/Tallahassee Democrat reports (Neergaard, AP/Tallahassee Democrat, 7/14). President Bush on Aug. 9, 2001, announced a policy limiting federally funded embryonic stem cell research to stem cell lines created on or before that date. As a result of Bush's restrictions, U.S. federally funded researchers currently have access to approximately 19 stem cell lines (California Healthline, 6/24). The new stem cell bank will allow NIH to provide a "readily available" source of embryonic stem cells to scientists, according to CongressDaily (Koffler, CongressDaily, 7/14). The embryonic stem cell bank will receive samples from the 19 sources approved for federal funding and will grow the stem cell lines under "specially controlled conditions," according to the AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel. NIH Director Elias Zerhouni said that growing all of the approved lines under controlled conditions will be important to outcomes and that having a central location for stem cell lines will reduce costs for scientists from $5,000 per shipment to "several hundred" dollars, according to the AP/Sun-Sentinel. In addition to the stem cell bank, NIH will spend approximately $18 million over four years to establish the three "centers of excellence," which will partner basic biologists doing stem cell research with physicians to accelerate research into practical therapies, according to Zerhouni, the AP/Sun-Sentinel reports (Neergaard, AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 7/13).
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson in a letter to Congress on Wednesday announcing the National Embryonic Stem Cell Bank said, "The president's embryonic stem cell policy holds tremendous and yet-untapped potential," adding, "Before anyone can argue that the stem cell policy should be broadened, we must first exhaust the potential" of currently available stem cell lines. Keith Yamamoto, executive vice medical dean at the University of California-San Francisco, said that the new proposals are "window dressing," adding, "The call for more cell lines is not simply that scientists want more of the same. ... The fundamental questions we need to ask come partly from what we learn by deriving them" (AP/Tallahassee Democrat, 7/14). Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said, "This important research field has a cloud over its head," adding, "Regrettably, [the] announcement doesn't appear to make that future any more certain" (AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 7/13).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.