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EXPAND STEM CELL RESEARCH



Published: Thu, September 6, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



San Jose Mercury News: It's increasingly apparent that President Bush's stem cell research policy, which sounded like a reasonable compromise when he announced it last month, isn't. He should revisit the issue and expand the sources of stem cells that are available to scientists pursuing this most promising field of biomedical research.

Bush went on prime time TV Aug. 9 and expressed limited support for research on human embryonic stem cells, which many scientists believe hold the key to curing a range of diseases. In an attempt to appease religious conservatives, he said he would permit federal funding for research on stem cells only if the cells were taken from existing experimental cell lines and didn't involve the destruction of any more embryos.

Bush assured the scientific community that there would be 64 such cell lines available, enough to satisfy the needs of researchers. Many scientists, who had thought Bush would ban all federal funding for stem cell research, were relieved and heartened.

Overly optimistic: It turns out the president was overly optimistic. Of the 64 lines, fewer than half are available and viable. Some are only in developmental stages and others may be contaminated. It's also likely that existing lines will eventually have to be discarded as the cells begin to develop, and Bush has no plans to approve additional lines.

Making the list of 64 were two stem-cell lines being developed at UC-San Francisco. But the scientist who led the research at UCSF, Roger Pederson, has moved to Britain to avoid restrictive federal regulations. Such a brain drain threatens this country's position as a leader in the field.

Without enough approved cell lines available, scientists will continue to use stem cells obtained from discarded embryos. Because of the president's restrictive policy, universities will be forced to isolate their work on sanctioned cell lines from research on non-sanctioned lines to avoid losing federal funding. This is the case at UCSF, where an off-campus lab has been opened to conduct experiments with private funds.

The outrage from the scientific community is building. Last week Netscape founder Jim Clark announced he would withhold part of his $150 million contribution to Stanford University's new biomedical research to protest Bush's policy.

"With no prospect of federal support, significant research in a field of scientific inquiry like stem cell research will stop," Clark wrote in an op-ed piece for the New York Times. "No research leader can forgo federal money."

In constructing his policy, Bush attempted to balance science, religion and politics. But in this quickly evolving field, his stopgap solution is just shortsighted. He should reconsider.




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