NIH Officials Criticize Bush Administration Policy on Stem Cell Research at Senate Committee Hearing
NIH officials on Wednesday in written and oral testimony before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies "br[oke] with a tradition of deference to top administration officials" and criticized the Bush administration's restrictions on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, the Washington Post reports (Weiss, Washington Post, 4/7). President Bush on Aug. 9, 2001, announced that federally funded human embryonic stem cell research would be limited to stem cell lines created on or before that date (California Healthline, 2/17).
"From a purely scientific standpoint, more stem cell lines may well be helpful," NIH Director Elias Zerhouni said at the hearing (CQ HealthBeat, 4/6). However, Zerhouni said he was not advocating for a policy change regarding embryonic stem cell research and acknowledged that the research raises "moral concerns" for some people, the New York Times reports (Gay Stolberg, New York Times, 4/7).
Several other NIH officials were "more direct" in their opposition to Bush's policy, the Baltimore Sun reports (Baer, Baltimore Sun, 4/7). "Progress has been delayed by the limited number of cell lines," Elizabeth Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, wrote in her testimony, adding, "The NIH has ceded leadership in this field."
James Battey, director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders and former head of NIH's task force on stem cells, said several embryonic stem cell lines recently developed in Chicago show biomedical potential. "The state of the science is moving very, very rapidly," Battey said, adding, "These cell lines, however, were all created after Aug. 9, 2001, and are therefore ineligible for federal funding" (Washington Post, 4/7).
Reps. Michael Castle (R-Del.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), House sponsors of legislation that would loosen federal funding restrictions on the research, "wasted no time" in using the testimony to argue for the legislation's passage at a press conference later on Wednesday, CQ HealthBeat reports (CQ HealthBeat, 4/6).
The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 (HR 810, S 471), which was introduced by a bipartisan group of U.S. Senate and House members in February, would allow researchers to receive federal funding for the study of stem cells derived from embryos created for fertility treatments and willingly donated by patients. Under the measure, the patients could not be compensated for embryo donation and would have to have full knowledge of how the donated embryos would be used. The legislation would not allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research on stem cell lines or embryos created expressly for research purposes (California Healthline, 2/17).
"The Bush administration is restricting [NIH] -- our nation's premiere research institution -- so that it can only conduct research on a handful of stem cells that are old, contaminated, hard to obtain and are inferior to stem cell lines created after August 2001," DeGette said (CQ HealthBeat, 4/6).
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said he is urging Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to take up the embryonic stem cell research funding legislation in the Senate, according to the Times. Frist spokesperson Amy Call on Wednesday said, "Senator Frist continues to monitor the progress in stem cell research and the need for any changes in policy but at this point does not feel any are necessary" (New York Times, 4/7).