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Stem cell research restrictions, & their reversal

Later review of President
Bush's restrictions

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Bush's restrictions revisited:

A year after President Bush's decision to limit studies to a small number of stem cell lines, most of those lines had "crashed" and become useless for research. By the end of 2002, only about a dozen of the original 78 stem cell colonies worldwide were " good enough shape to use in experiments. Even fewer -- perhaps four lines -- are being routinely shared and sent to other researchers interested in breaking into the field." 1

During 2005-MAY, when a stem cell bill was being debated in congress, some commentators were quoting researchers as saying that none of the stem cell lines were usable for research.

"To limit researchers to 60 cell lines, critics say, is like telling mathematicians they can pursue their studies but they can never use numbers bigger than 10. 'I think it's a ridiculous policy,' said George Daley, a leading stem cell researcher at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge," MA. Evan Snyder, another stem cell expert at the Harvard Medical School, called Bush's approach 'scientifically naive.' " 2

In late 2005-JUL, Bill Frist (R-TN), the Senate Majority Leader, surprised religious and social conservatives when he announced his support for modifying the president's policy. He noted that only 22 lines out of the 78 originally foreseen by the administration are still eligible for federal funding. Some of these are deteriorating and/or contaminated. He said:

"... the limitation put into place in 2001 will, over time, slow our ability to bring potential new treatments for certain diseases.... embryonic stem cells uniquely hold specific promise for some therapies and potential cures that adult stem cells just cannot provide.....It's not just a matter of faith, it's a matter of science." 3

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Gradual failure of the president's plan:

The president's restrictions on stem cell research only control the supply of cells to government-funded research programs. Most of those cells come from WiCell Research Institute Inc. of Madison, WI now called the National Stem Cell Bank (NSCB). These cell lines have been steadily degrading. Some have been reproducing for over eight years, and suffer from DNA damage. Of the over 60 lines that were available in 2001-AUG, only 22 were still useable five years later. Eventually, all will be useless.

However, Douglas Melton, 52, a biologist from Harvard University, started producing stem cells independently in 2003 using funding from the private Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, MD. He was motivated by the news that two of his children were diagnosed with diabetes. The lines are shipped free to non-governmental research projects.

By mid 2006, 667 stem cell batches were supplied by Harvard; 246 came from the NSCB.

Larry Goldstein, a scientist at the University of California-San Diego noted that Harvard cells, which he obtained at no cost, were better. They divided more quickly than the $10,000 lot he received from the NSCB. He said: "We tend to vote with our feet. Among the lines we've tried, the best have been from Harvard. Those lines have been the most user-friendly.'' They are also relatively free of the genetic abnormalities that are frequently seen in NSCB lines.

Another problem with the NSCB stem cells is lack of ethnic diversity. They apparently came mainly from affluent white families. Genetic diversity is important if treatments are going to be developed that will function well for all humans.

Bloomberg reports:

"Researchers in China, Sweden, and Colombia have recently derived new cell lines, adding to the ethnic diversity of lines available internationally. Because of the Bush administration's restrictions, American scientists are unable to get government money to use any of them for research." 4

Bill S. 997 was introduced into the Senate in 2007. It would have legalized the creation and use of new stem cell lines. It was approved by both houses of Congress. President George W Bush vetoed it. It has been reintroduced in 2009

References used in the above essay:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Paul Elias, "Stanford to Develop Human Stem Cells," Associated Press, 2002-DEC-11. Online at:
  2. Ceci Connolly, et al., "Viability of stem cell plan doubted," Washington Post, 2001-AUG-20, Page A01. See:
  3. "A Matter of Science," The Washington Post, 2005-JUL-30, at:
  4. "Harvard Stem Cells Favored Over Those Produced With U.S. Funds," Bloomberg, 2006-JUL-13, at:

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Copyright 1998 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-MAR-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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