Thompson Says Most Stem Cell Research Lines Too Immature
Testifying before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee yesterday, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson "acknowledged" that nearly two-thirds of the 64 embryonic stem cell lines eligible for federally funded research are not sufficiently developed to begin experimentation, but added that the approximately two dozen stem cell lines that are mature "are sufficient to conduct extensive basic research," the Washington Post reports. President Bush has stipulated that federal funding will only be allowed for research conducted on embryonic stem cell lines isolated before Aug. 9, the date of his announcement to fund the experiments (Connolly/Gillis, Washington Post, 9/6). Thompson said that of the 64 embryonic stem cell lines eligible for federal funding, only "24 or 25" are "full-fledged cell lines," but added that the other 40 cell colonies "would yield additional lines before federal funding begins next year" (McGinley et al., Wall Street Journal, 9/6). "We're confident there are enough and we're confident the private sector will fill the voids where there are any voids," Thompson said (Washington Post, 9/6). Thompson noted that scientists have conducted research on embryonic stem cells derived from mice "for years" using only five cell lines. However, Douglas Melton, a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University, said that embryonic stem cells derived from mice "have proven unreliable over time for researchers, either dying out or growing into diseased forms" (Vergano, USA Today, 9/6).
Thompson faced criticism from several lawmakers who said they feel that Bush's policy imposes too many restrictions on stem cell research. Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.) and Sens. John Warner (R-Va.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) all expressed concerns that limiting federal funding to the 64 lines chosen by the administration may hamper research efforts. Specter, who serves as the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee's health and labor subcommittee, stated, "There are real questions about the accuracy of the facts presented to the president by the Department of Health and Human Services." When asked after the hearing whether Bush was aware when he announced his decision that fewer than half of the 64 colonies were ready for research, Thompson said that nobody knew how many lines would be readily available. "I can't even say it's 24. But I can say the 64 meet the president's criteria," Thompson said (Washington Post, 9/6). He added that the Bush administration will not change its policy regarding federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, "even if researchers devised a method for creating more useful embryonic stem cells or cells that would lead more quickly to treatments if supported with federal research dollars," USA Today reports (USA Today, 9/6). Although several senators had voiced concerns over Bush's policy, they "stopped well short of threatening immediate legislative action" to alter it, CongressDaily reports (Rovner, CongressDaily, 9/5). The New York Times reports that lawmakers are not likely to pass such legislation this fall, but the issue could be taken up "as soon as next year, once scientists have more to report on the usefulness of the cell lines" (Stolberg, New York Times, 9/6).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.