Monday, April 20, 2009

NIH posts embryonic stem cell funding draft guidelines

The National Institutes of Health have posted their draft guidelines for the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Starting on April 24, the NIH will accept comments from the public on these guidelines for 30 days. To my surprise, the guidelines exclude funding on research using embryonic cell lines created from human embryos created for research purposes.
These draft Guidelines would allow funding for research using only those human embryonic stem cells that were derived from embryos created by in vitro fertilization (IVF) for reproductive purposes and were no longer needed for that purpose. Funding will continue to be allowed for human stem cell research using adult stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells. Specifically, these Guidelines describe the conditions and informed consent procedures that would have been required during the derivation of human embryonic stem cells for research using these cells to be funded by the NIH. NIH funding for research using human embryonic stem cells derived from other sources, including somatic cell nuclear transfer, parthenogenesis, and/or IVF embryos created for research purposes, is not allowed under these Guidelines.
National Right to Life believes these guidelines could be part of what they’re calling a bait-and-switch strategy.
We believe that today's action may be part of a "bait-and-switch" strategy, under which Democratic leaders in Congress will suddenly bring up new legislation that they will claim codifies today's NIH action, but which will in fact authorize further expansions involving the deliberate creation of human embryos for use in research, by human cloning and other methods.
I’m not so sure. Wouldn’t it be much easier for the NIH just to fund any embryonic stem cell research (regardless of the source) than have these draft guidelines and then have Congress pass legislation which claims to match the guidelines but doesn’t? Congressional action would be harder to overturn in the long run but I’m doubting the NIH draft guidelines are part of some grand scheme. I guess we’ll have to see.

For more evidence that some scientists will never be satisfied with any funding restrictions, Stanford research Irv Weissman blasts the draft guidelines in a press release because they don’t allow the federal funding of research on embryonic stem cell lines created from cloned human embryos (SCNT is short for somatic cell nuclear transfer - the scientific term for cloning).
“Instead of facts, the NIH placed its own version of ethics in place of the president’s clear proclamation,” said Weissman, the Virginia & D.K. Ludwig Professor for Clinical Investigation in Cancer Research. “As head of the National Academy of Sciences' panel that unanimously endorsed research using SCNT, and as a drafter of the guidelines for the International Society for Stem Cell Research, I know that this suggested ban on federal funding of SCNT-derived human embryonic stem cell lines is against our policies and against President Obama’s March 9 comments. The NIH has not served its president well.”
The NIH doesn’t really say research using embryonic stem cell lines from cloned embryos is unethical. Maybe they’ve finally come to realize that funding research involving cell lines for cloned embryos (which haven’t been created yet) isn’t “scientifically sound.”

UPDATEDYuval Levin's thoughts are here.

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