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HOW MANY LINES OF STEM CELLS?



Published: Wed, August 22, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



St. Louis Post-Dispatch: American government funding is the engine that drives cutting-edge medical research around the world. President George W. Bush has opened the door to funding the potentially revolutionary field of embryonic stem cell research. But it is becoming increasingly unclear just how far that door has opened.

Mr. Bush's compromise was a painstaking effort to allow the research to proceed while adhering to his campaign pledge that he would not support practices that involve destroying human life, even at the earliest cellular stages.

Mr. Bush decided to allow funding, now estimated at $100 million, for research only on the 60 embryonic stem cell lines already believed to be in existence around the world, where "the life and death decision already has been made." Another $150 million will go to research on stem cells derived from adult human tissue, which most scientists feel are also promising, but not capable of developing into as many different kinds of tissue and treating as many conditions.

Controversy immediately surrounded that number 60. If there are indeed 60 healthy stem cell lines, and if they are reasonably available to scientists, they would comprise an acceptable beginning of American participation. But the White House is refusing to tell scientists precisely who owns these colonies, making it impossible to determine if the cells are available or viable. Not all stem cell lines are hearty enough to withstand research techniques and keep reproducing. Some die for unknown reasons, others become infected. Scientists feel most comfortable with lines that have been peer reviewed in scientific journals, now estimated at between 10 and 20.

Registry: Predicting that the 60 cell owners themselves will come forward soon, the administration says it cannot provide a list of labs because information on the privately owned cells is considered proprietary. Officials at the National Institutes of Health said they hope to compile a registry of stem cell lines over the next few months. Meanwhile, the world's top scientists remain in a holding pattern.

"Anything that restricts access to human embryonic stem cells will inevitably result in delay, and that is not good for patients who are paralyzed, bedridden, wheelchair-bound or who have diabetes, heart attacks or strokes," said Dr. Ira Black, a leading stem cell researcher at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

If it becomes evident in the next few months that there are not 60 suitable embryonic stem cell lines available to American scientists, Mr. Bush's limited "yes" to research essentially becomes a "no." Bills that would fund broader research on stem cells derived from surplus frozen embryos earmarked for destruction in fertility clinics have been introduced by Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott, a Washington physician. Mr. Bush has said he would veto such a bill, but some people close to him have speculated that he could change his mind.

Sooner or later, Congress should move to fund the broader research, if only to allow it to proceed at full force. If Mr. Bush's 60 promised cell lines do not materialize, it is all the more reason for Congress to act now, passing the measure with enough support to override a veto.

A PENNY SAVED IS A PENNY SAVED

Chicago Tribune: It's true many Americans don't even bother picking them up from sidewalks anymore. Clearly, the penny just doesn't seem worth it to today's oh-so-rushed passersby.

But there's no denying that a penny saved is -- well, a penny saved. Save 100 of them and you have saved a buck. Save a buck here and there and pretty soon you have a nest egg.

No matter, the venerable penny is under assault once again. This time, it's Arizona GOP Rep. Jim Kolbe leading the charge. His Legal Tender Modernization Act would require merchants to round up or down to the nearest nickel rather than calculate prices to the penny.

Here's two cents' worth of rebuttal to this penny-pinching idea. Given the option, merchants will not round down; they will round up, leading to a general upward creep in prices. But $4.99 going to $5 is only the most obvious reason this is a bad idea.

Paul Revere: The penny is as much a part of the United States of America as the midnight ride of Paul Revere -- who incidentally supplied copper for some of the early pennies. The penny was the first currency of any type authorized by the U.S. The first one was minted in 1787, the same year the U.S. Constitution was written.

Abraham Lincoln appeared on the penny in 1909 to celebrate the centennial of his birth -- the first historical figure to be so honored. Oh, sure, Old Abe wouldn't be homeless if the penny were discarded. He'd still have his spot on the $5 bill. But there's something noble and true -- Lincolnesque even -- about the lowly coin.

These crusades against the penny are launched periodically, but they never succeed because the penny is woven so deeply into America's lore and lexicon -- In for a penny, in for a pound. Pennywise and pound-foolish. A penny for your thoughts. Penny candy and penny arcades are pretty much history, but the penny is still worth every last cent.




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