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Line Up for the New Lines

Yesterday, the National Institutes of Health approved 13 new embryonic stem cell lines according to the rigorous ethical guidelines that went into effect July 7th. The lines will now be eligible for use in federally funded research. The 15-point rules include requirements that cells must be derived with private funds from embryos created solely for fertility treatment purposes, but which are left over from IVF clinics. Also, the couples donating the embryos must give their informed consent, must not be offered any financial inducement, must be told that they will not derive any personal benefits from the research, and they must be presented with other options including putting the embryos up for adoption before they are asked to donate the embryos for research. All of these requirements reflect the recommendations put forth in the CAP report, “A Life Sciences Crucible.”

These new policies implemented President Obama’s March 9th Executive Order, which marked a much-needed departure from President George W. Bush’s policy. The former president’s ethical guidelines for federally funded human embryonic stem cell research were limited simply to a declaration that no government money could support work on lines derived before August 9, 2001. This left scientists with only 21 lines of low scientific quality and ethically questionable origins.

Eleven of the 13 new cell lines came from Children’s Hospital in Boston and the other two came from Rockefeller University in New York and were approved through the NIH’s normal administrative review process. There are 96 more lines awaiting approval either through the same process or by an alternative process for cell lines derived before the new guidelines went into effect. As part of that alternative process, approximately 20 lines will be reviewed tomorrow by the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director. Now that these 13 lines have been added to the NIH Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry, research can begin on the 30 hESC research projects that have received over $20 million in NIH grants for 2009. According to the NIH press release:

This group of grants includes research using hESCs for the therapeutic regeneration of diseased or damaged heart muscle cells, developing systems for the production of neural stem cells and different types of neurons from hESCs in culture, and developing a cell culture system for the large scale production and self-renewal of hESCs.

The approval of the lines could not come at a better time. As Ali H. Brivanlou, a researcher at Rockefeller University who had to segregate privately and federally funded research activities under the Bush regime, told The New York Times, “You can imagine what it meant not to be able to carry a pipette from one room to another.…They even had to repaint the walls to ensure no contamination by federal funds.”

Indeed, Science Progress is glad to see that scientists can now do their work uncontaminated by bad bioethics policy.

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