13 New Stem Cell Lines Released for Research

Private money cannot pay for embryo donations, but can fund the process of creating the stem cell lines. All of the embryos in the registry had to be "created using in vitro fertilization for reproductive purposes and were no longer needed for this purpose." They had to be donated with written consent "by individuals who sought reproductive treatment," according to the NIH guidelines.

Once a new stem cell line is derived with private money, researchers can try to make it publically available for research by applying for approval with the NIH.

Daley said federal approval means much more than access for stem cell scientists. Federal money is still the "lifeblood" of most scientific work in the United States, even in Daley's lab, which gets millions of dollars in private funding.

"The NIH funds the vast majority of basic biomedical research," said Daley. "It's the lifeblood for my lab; it's the sustenance for all the high-powered biomedical science."

"There's now 20 million dollars available today that wasn't available yesterday," he said. "But we're still at the beginning. We only have 13 of the potentially 700-800 lines derived worldwide."

Dr. Sean Morrison, director of the University of Michigan Center For Stem Cell Biology, was one of the 31 researchers to receive federal grants for human embryonic stem cell research. He was awarded money three months ago -- but sent a warning that he wasn't allowed to spend it.

"We were temporarily in a worse position than we were under the Bush administration," said Morrison, who had to hold off on hiring anyone for three months before the NIH approved any embryonic stem cell lines for use.

Morrison requested use of embryonic stem cells from Children's Hospital Boston in order to do research on Hirschsprung disease -- a potentially fatal birth defect that makes a portion of a person's intestines useless. He hopes to use stem cells in therapy to develop nerve cells to replace the missing nerve tissue in the colons of Hirchsprung patients.

"Overall I think the NIH policy is good, and now that it is implemented it's going to accelerate science in this country and it's going to get better and better over time," said Morrison. But he pointed out that others will have to wait and that the NIH is dependent upon scientists to voluntarily submit their stem cell lines to the registry.

Alternatives to Embryonic Stem Cell Research?

When asked about those who oppose research on embryonic stem cells for any reason, Collins said he thought the controversy should be put to rest with the new NIH guidelines.

"After all, what we're talking about here are stem cell lines that are developed as part of in vitro fertilization and remain as excess embryos that are not going to be used," Collins said.

Controversy cooled over embryonic stem cell research since the passing of the 2001 regulations, in part because of new research that showed skin cells can be prodded into behaving like embryonic stem cells. Normally only embryonic stem cells are "pluripotent," meaning they are able to turn into any type of cell -- muscle, bone, blood, etc.

But Dr. Shinya Yamanaka showed human skin cells can be induced into pluripotency in 2007, opening up the promise of what is now called iPS or Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells.

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