The National Institutes of Health announced it will make 13 new embryonic stem cell lines will be available for federally funded research, and will consider adding 20 more new embryonic stem cell lines to a national registry on Friday.
For eight years, scientists using federal grants had to vie for access to just 21 approved lines, or colonies of stem cells derived from a human embryo. The Bush administration imposed a moratorium on federally-funded research on new embryonic stem cell lines created after August 9, 2001.
But, President Obama overturned the Bush moratorium on March 9 and announced a new process, along with the NIH, for approving federally-funded embryonic research in July. The government no longer considers when an embryonic stem cell line was created, but whether the scientists followed strict ethical guidelines on how the embryo was donated, who gave consent, and that nobody was paid for a donation.
"We have been stealing for this announcement. We have frozen away 100 vials of most of the lines," said Dr. George Daley, director of Stem Cell Transplantation Program Children's Hospital Boston where 11 of the new lines were developed. The two other newly approved lines were developed at The Rockefeller University in New York City under Dr. Ali H. Brivanlou.
The 13 lines are the fist in what the government promises will be hundreds of new embryonic stem cell lines approved for federally funded research.
"The scientific community breathed a huge sigh of relief and said, 'Yay,' now we can continue with the science,'" said Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the NIH. "What we are talking about today is just the beginning of what is going to be an interesting series of approvals."
Even if a scientist does not develop an embryonic stem cell line in his or her lab, they can now apply for federal research money to study the embryonic stem cell lines on the national registry.
All told, the NIH is reviewing 96 pending applications (including the 20 up for review on Friday) from scientists to make their stem cell lines available to researchers through a national registry. Collins estimated at least one hundred more researchers with stem cell lines have told the NIH they plan to apply for approval.
"We have to remember that under the Bush administration, there was a tacit support for the area of stem cell biology, there were just all of these administrative restrictions," said Daley. "I would hope that we have reached a new understanding -- that we can put these debates in the past."
Collins said the government has $21 million in grant money allotted for research on the new lines and the NIH is expecting at least $10 million more next year from Challenge Grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Researchers still must create their embryonic stem cell lines with private money under the 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment, under which Congress banned federal funding to create embryos for human research if human embryos will be destroyed.