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HUMAN STEM CELL RESEARCH

Media reports: 2001-SEPT to 2002-DEC

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bullet2001-SEP-5: USA: Official admits that most stem cell lines not useable at this time: Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) chaired a congressional hearing to examine the President's announcement of AUG-9. Tommy Thompson, Health and Human Services Secretary, admitted that most of the 60 stem cell lines that the president will allow researchers to work with are not currently useable. Referring to the restrictions placed by President Bush, Kennedy said that scientists worry that the limitations "will delay development of cures for dread diseases for many years at the cost of countless lives and immeasurable suffering." Thompson announced an agreement with a U.S. university that will make a few stem cell lines available to government researchers.
bullet2001-OCT-14: USA: Comparison of AMA and pro-life stances on embryo stem cells: An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contrasts the two positions: "Medical organizations, including the largest in the country -- the American Medical Association -- believe embryonic stem cell research is an essential part of investigating a promising approach to treating disease. Conversely, pro-life organizations, such as the Colorado-based Focus on Family, say it's not necessary to destroy embryos to further stem cell research."

Yank D. Coble Jr., a Jacksonville, FL endocrinologist is expected to take over as president of the organization in June. He said: "It's not an easy fact, but embryonic stem cells show far more potential than those from adults, or even from placenta or umbilical cord cells...They could potentially be of benefit to humankind...It's an emotional issue, which is understandable and complex....Some people say it's the single most important medical advance since antibiotics."

Carrie Gordon Earll, a biomedical ethicist at Focus on Family contradicted Dr. Coble. She said: "We're opposed to embryonic stem cell research, and that's an essential clarification in all of this." She also said that stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood, placenta and bone marrow cells are as promising as embryonic stem cells. She said: "Embryonic stem cells have been sold as almost a silver bullet in curing disease [which is wrong] It is never justified to sacrifice one human being for another." 1
bullet2001-NOV-7: USA: NIH posts list of cell lines on Internet: The National Institutes of Health posted a list of the approved cell lines in its "Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry." The total cell lines now total 72. However, some lines are genetically identical to others. 2
bullet2001-NOV-13: USA: September 11 terrorist attack affects stem cell research: According to Koenig's International News, Washington politicians have largely abandoned their interest in the regulation of stem cell research because of the Anthrax, World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks. Hearings on stem cells and cloning which were scheduled for later this year have been postponed until next year. David Greenwood, spokesperson for Geron Corporation -- a company active in stem cell technology -- said: "My concern is that, as the political process slows, it will negatively affect progress in the entire field...days go by that turn into weeks, and weeks go by that turn into months [before key decisions are made]."
bullet2002-JAN-16: Quebec: Canadian province bans all embryo stem cell research:  According to Agape Press, Quebec's Minister of State for Science and Technology has released new research guidelines. The extraction of stem cells from embryos is "forbidden." The use of existing stem cells, or new stem cells obtained from out of province, is banned if they involved the death of human embryos. The ban extends to both privately and publicly funded research.
bullet2002-MAR-4: Canada: New guidelines for stem cell research issued: The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which is the government agency that issues grants to medical researchers, has issued new guidelines to cover stem cell research. Government-funded researchers will be allowed to extract stem cells from aborted fetuses and from spare embryos left over after IVF fertility treatments. However, they will not be permitted to create new embryos in the lab for the purpose of generating stem cells. Private Canadian laboratories are exempt from these restrictions. The federal government is expected to pass legislation during 2002 which will probably reflect the guidelines. 3
bullet2002-JUN-30: USA: NRLC expands mandate: The National Right to Life Committee was organized in 1972 to restrict or eliminate abortion access.  They decided at their Pittsburgh PA convention, (held JUN-27 to 29), to expand their mandate to include seeking bans on human embryo stem-cell research, physician-assisted suicide, and human cloning. 4
bullet2002-JUL-11: 2002-JUL-9-11: USA: President Bush accused of breaking promise: According to the American Life League, (ALL) when George W. Bush was running for president, the U.S. conference of Catholic Bishops asked him whether he would oppose research on aborted fetuses. He replied: "I oppose using federal funds to perform fetal tissue research from induced abortions." Again, according to the ALL, he "quietly approved a decision made by members of his administration to endow federal money to a project at Johns Hopkins University involving research on aborted human embryos up to eight weeks old..." Other pro-life groups also attacked the President for this decision. However, Focus on the Family came to his defense. They pointed out that existing legislation does not restrict stem cells taken from aborted embryos at up to eight weeks, which is the purpose of the Johns Hopkins University study that was funded. Carrie Gordon Earll a  Bioethics Analyst at Focus on the Family said that "With this issue, Bush really doesn't have latitude. He is bound by a 1993 law passed by Congress which allows research. And not only does it allow the research, but it specifically forbids the president from interfering." The only way in which he could have prevented the funding would have been to break his oath of office -- an impeachable offense.

It is worth noting that Bush's promise was to oppose fetal tissue research. An embryo only becomes a fetus after 10 weeks gestation. The study will not go beyond eight weeks, when the product of conception is still an embryo. So the study goes beyond the scope of Bush's promise. 5,6

The Citizen Link article said that product of conception becomes a fetus before eight weeks gestation. That is apparently an error.
bullet2002-AUG-11: USA: Stem cells approved by President Bush mostly useless: Paul Elias of the Associated Press interviewed stem cell researchers one year after the President's decision. He reported that researchers complained: "An overwhelming majority of the stem cells the Bush administrated approved are in poor condition and useless for research." Another concern by researchers is the lack of money. Six million dollars has been pledged by small private foundations (Christopher Reeve Paralysis foundation, Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Intel Corp. Chairperson Andy Grove is giving a 5 million challenge grant to the University of California. The National Institutes of Health started funding research in 2001-NOV and has approved only 3.5 million dollars in grants to date. Some of the larger foundations like the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society have decided to not fund stem cell research, fearing a backlash from their contributors. 7
bullet2002-SEP-22: CA: Governor Davis signs stem cell research into law: Bill SB 253, which permits embryonic stem cell research within the state of California, became law. Response was predictable. Ken Connor, President of the Family Research Council wrote that Davis had put "profits and politics ahead of principle. Gov. Davis is simply pandering to the noisy, well-heeled biotech lobby and the pro-abortion crowd that spurns any recognition of the legal status of the unborn.  Such research on human embryos violates the Hippocratic injunction that physicians "First, do no harm."  It seeks to establish the utilitarian ethic that the ends justify the means and attempts to bypass President Bush's executive order limiting this research to specific cell lines. Doubtless some politicians are salivating over the economic windfall this decision could bring to the state--at the expense of innocent human life. 8 Meanwhile, SiliconValley.com posted an article by the Mercury News which said: "Scientists said the signing of the stem-cell research bill is a symbolic boost for the controversial research that could lead to breakthroughs in treatments of spinal-cord injuries and diseases including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. 'Stem-cell research is responsible research that could potentially save millions of lives,'' Davis said at a press conference featuring actor Christopher Reeve, who has championed the research since he was paralyzed in a horseback-riding accident. 'With world-class universities, top-flight researchers and a thriving biomedical industry, California is perfectly positioned to be a world leader in this area.' '' 9 More details.
bullet2002-SEP-26: MA: Researchers grow living pig teeth in rats: Researchers at Forsyth Institute in Boston have successfully grown living pig teeth in rats. They took cells from immature teeth of 6-month old pigs, treated them with enzymes, and placed them on biodegradable "scaffolds." These are small pieces of a polymer that act like a mold to confine the forming tissue. The cells and scaffolds were then implanted into the abdomens of rats. Within 30 weeks, tooth crowns had formed. This process may some day lead to technology that would allow a person to replace a lost tooth with an identical one grown from their own dental stem cells. Spokesperson Dominick DePaola said: "The ability to identify, isolate and propagate dental stem cells to use in biological replacement tooth therapy has the potential to revolutionize dentistry." 10
bullet2002-SEP-28: USA: Nancy Reagan promotes stem cell research: Nancy Reagan, 81, wife of former Republican president Ronald Reagan is challenging President Bush's policy on stem cell research -- but not in public. She believes that such research could find a cure for Alzheimer's, the disease that is destroying her husband's memory. She passed a message via friend to the New York Times, saying that "A lot of time is being wasted. A lot of people who could be helped are not being helped." According to reporter Alessandra Stanley, Ms. Reagan "has personally contacted 20 members of Congress, button-holed administration officials and conferred with leading scientists, including Dr. Richard D. Klausner, who resigned as director of the National Cancer Institute last September and now runs the global health program of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation." 11
bullet2002-DEC-10: UK: British government gives extra £40m for stem cell research: The British government has decided to increase funding for stem cell research from £20m to £60m (about $94 million U.S. dollars). This makes it one of the world's largest publicly funded programs. Science minister, Lord Sainsbury, said that stem cells have "the revolutionary potential to cure a range of life-threatening and debilitating diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, cancer, chronic heart disease and diabetes, by generating replacements for damaged tissues." According to the Financial Times, "He said many scientists from Britain and overseas were expressing interest in conducting stem cell research in the UK - attracted by the prospect of generous funding, along with a favorable legal and regulatory framework." 12
bullet2002-DEC-12: CA: Stamford launches stem cell research program:  As a result of an anonymous 12 million dollar grant, medical professor Dr. Irving Weissman, will direct a stem cell research program involving nuclear transfer technology at Stanford university in California. Weissman said: "Our avowed goal is to advance science. For any group to stay out of the action and wait for someone else to do it because of political reasons is wrong." He explained that the project will involve taking human DNA from diseased adult cells, transferring them into ova, and growing them in the lab for a few days before extracting the resultant stem cells for further research. Stanford released a statement saying that: "Creating human stem cell lines is not equivalent to reproductive cloning....The first step in the process of creating a stem cell line involves transferring the nucleus from a cell to an egg and allowing the egg to divide. This is the same first step as in reproductive cloning. However, in creating a stem cell line, cells are removed from the developing cluster. These cells can go on to form many types of tissue, but cannot on their own develop into a human." The American Association of Medical Colleges says that: "Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) or therapeutic cloning involves removing the nucleus of an unfertilized egg cell, replacing it with the material from the nucleus of a `somatic cell' (a skin, heart, or nerve cell, for example), and stimulating this cell to begin dividing." 13

Ronald Green, chairman of Advanced Cell's ethics advisory committee and a religion professor at Dartmouth University said: "We've been struggling with names for this technology — I've favored 'therapeutic cloning." Other leading ethicists call it "biomedical cloning" and draw a distinction between it and "reproductive cloning," which is intended to produce a newborn.

Wendy Wright, senior policy director at the Fundamentalist Christian Concerned Women for America said that "This announcement shows we've gone from a slippery slope to a free fall." 14 Dr. David Stevens, president of the Fundamentalist Christian Medical Association accuses Stanford of "trying to pull the wool over people's eyes. And Dr. (Irving) Weissman, (who is) heading the project, is just being disingenuous. This is cloning and every scientist out there that is involved in the scientific process knows for a fact that that's what's going on." He is concerned that graduate students who decide to do research in this field may not fully consider the ethical ramifications. He is also concerned that stem cell research might result in cures or treatments for people with cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, or other diseases. He urges Congress "to pass a ban on human cloning now. Once the scientists are able to claim that some kind of success has come out of this, it will be too difficult to try and ban it even if that success is trumped up." 13
bullet2002-DEC-13: New Jersey Senate vote to encourage stem cell research: A vote is scheduled for DEC-14 on Bill 1909 The bill notes that "an estimated 128 million Americans suffer from the crippling economic and psychological burden of chronic, degenerative and acute diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, cancer, diabetes and Parkinson's disease; The costs of treating, and lost productivity from, chronic, degenerative and acute diseases in the United States constitutes hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Estimates of the economic costs of these diseases does not account for the extreme human loss and suffering associated with these conditions; Human stem cell research offers immense promise for developing new medical therapies for these debilitating diseases and a critical means to explore fundamental questions of biology. Stem cell research could lead to unprecedented treatments and potential cures for Alzheimer's disease, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's disease and other diseases." 15

Two Fundamentalist Christian groups, Focus on the Family and New Jersey Family Policy Council, oppose  the bill for three reasons:
bulletThey believe that pre-embryos are human persons; killing them constitutes murder.
bulletStem cells removed from adults, which have a limited degree of usefulness,  should be used in preference to embryo stem cells.
bulletThe legislation "opens the door to human [reproductive] cloning." 16 From a reading of the bill, it is unclear to us how this can happen. The bill deals entirely with stem cell research.
bullet2002-DEC-17: NJ: Senate approves therapeutic cloning bill: The New Jersey Senate voted 25-0 to allow the production of stem cells for medical research within the state. All twenty Democrats and five Republicans voted in favor. In a curious development, fifteen Republicans abstained. 17
bullet2002-DEC-20: Germany: Government issued permit to import stem cells: Germany issued its first permit to allow the import of stem cells into the country. It was issued to the University of Bonn, and will be used for research into Parkinson's and other currently incurable diseases. Oliver Bruestle, a neurobiologist at the University, said: "I am very happy and relieved that everything came together this yea. I have waited more than two years." He plans to start research in 2003-JAN. The law permits imports of stem cells produced before 2002-JAN-1 for projects of "overwhelming significance" where no other research method can be used. There is a narrow window of opportunity during which such stem cells will be useable. Probably by the end of 2004, all stem cells that can be imported under this law will be useless for research. 18

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Cloning and stem cell research are unrelated lines of research. However, they both start with an ovum and initially use some of the same techniques.

bulletWhen does human personhood begin?
bulletHuman cloning
bulletPre-implantation genetic diagnosis
bulletTherapeutic cloning

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References used in the above essay:

  1. Janice Crompton, "A View from the Experts: Pro-lifers say embryo cells not essential; AMA disagrees," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette® at: http://www.post-gazette.com
  2. Paul Recer, "NIH releases list of stem cell colonies approved for federally funded research," Associated Press, at: http://www2.startribune.com/
  3. "Canada issues guidelines for stem-cell research," Associated Press, 2002-MAR-5, at: http://www.nando.com/world/story/283698p-2547491c.html
  4. Jim Rudd, "National Right to Life's Deception," at: http://covenantnews.com/rudd020701.htm
  5. "Bush Advances Legacy Of Bad Decisions, Broken Promises And Dead Babies," American Life League National Desk, 2002-JUL-8, at: http://www.usnewswire.com/topnews/first/0709-102.html
  6. Stuart Shepard, "Federally Funded Research Prompts Questions," Citizen Link, Focus on the Family, 2002-JUL-11.
  7. Paul Elias, "Stem cell work 'a mess'," Associated Press, 2002-AUG-11.
  8. Ken Connor, "California: Rebels with a Cause," Family Research Council, 2002-SEP-23, Washington Update news release.
  9. Barbara Feder Ostrov, "Davis signs nation's first stem-cell research bill," Mercury News, 2002-SEP-23, at: http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/4132665.htm
  10. Greg Frost, "Doctors Grow Living Pig Teeth in Rats," Reuters, 2002-SEP-26.
  11. Alessandra Stanley, "Nancy Reagan Fights Bush Over Stem Cells," New York Times, at: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/29/politics/
  12. Clive Cookson, "Stem cell research gets extra £40m in funding," Financial Times, 2002-DEC-10, at: http://news.ft.com/servlet/
  13. Paul Elias, "Stanford to Develop Human Stem Cells," Associated Press, 2002-DEC-11. Online at: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?
  14. Bob Kellogg, "Stanford Launches Stem Cell Research Program," Family News in Focus, 2002-DEC-12, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/fnif/news/A0023641.html
  15. "Senate No. 1909," Text of the bill, at: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2002/Bills/S2000/1909_I1.HTM
  16. "CITIZENLINK--Special Alert/Correction," Family News in Focus, 2002-DEC-13.
  17. "Mad science," Family Research Council, 2002-DEC-17.
  18. "Germany Clears Embryonic Stem Cell Import. Germany Issues First Permit to Import Human Embryo Cells for Research Under New Law," Associated Press, 2002-DEC-13. Online at: http://abcnews.go.com/wire

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Latest update: 2003-MAY-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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