Date Published: 19 July 2006

Patients worldwide could suffer if US stem cell Bill is vetoed - according to the Royal Society

The President of the Royal Society, Martin Rees, has warned that millions of patients across the world could suffer if a US Presidential veto stops a Bill that would allow more research on human embryonic stem cells in the United States.

The United States Senate is due to vote today on Bill HR 810 that would create the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act to expand federal funding for research on stem cells derived from human embryos left over from in vitro fertilisation treatment that would otherwise be destroyed. At present, federal funding is restricted to just 22 cell lines derived from human embryos before 9 August 2001. Bill HR 810 was passed by the House of Representatives on 24 May 2005.

The Bill is being sponsored by Congressman Michael Castle (Republican, Delaware) and 200 other co-sponsors. It has bipartisan support and its supporters believe that it will be passed by the Senate. However, Executive Office of the President confirmed yesterday that he would veto the Bill if it is presented to him.

Lord Rees said:

" Clearly the United States should decide for itself what restrictions it should place on research involving human embryonic stem cells. But it should be acknowledged that the current policy that prevents federal funding for research on any stem cell lines derived after 21 August 2001 is slowing down the global effort to develop therapies for a range of diseases and illnesses.

_ The United States was an international leader in this field, as it is in many areas of biomedical research. But the current restrictions prevent researchers in the United States from using federal funds not only to carry out studies involving stem cells derived in the last five years, but also to collaborate with their colleagues in other countries on such work. These restrictions are having a global knock-on effect that is ultimately slowing down research on stem cell therapies that could eventually help millions of patients in the United States and the rest of the world.

_ Stem cells could be used to generate replacement cells and tissues to treat many diseases and conditions including Parkinson's disease, leukaemia, stroke, diabetes, spinal cord injury, as well as heart and liver disease. But the proper evaluation of potential stem cell therapies can only take place through research on embryonic as well as adult stem cells."

Lord Rees added:

" It remains to be seen what would happen if the President does use the first veto of his time in office to stop this Bill. But if the present restrictions remain, it would surely mean that the United States will continue to fall behind in this important and exciting area, and it may mean more researchers move to countries, like the United Kingdom, which provide better support for this work."

At present, there are major differences between the UK and United States in the regulation and funding of research involving human embryonic stem cells.

In the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act allows licences to be granted for necessary and desirable research involving stem cells derived from human embryos up to 14 days of development. Such licences can be granted for research that is funded either by the UK Government or from other sources. The Act was introduced in 1990 following extensive consultation, taking into account scientific, ethical and other considerations. It was updated after further consultation in 2001 to allow stem cell research.

In the United States, however, the President announced on 9 August 2001 that federal funding could be used for research on human embryonic stem cell lines that were already in existence, but not for any cell lines subsequently produced. According to the Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research' published by the United States National Research Council in 2005, it was originally thought that about 60 cell lines were covered by the President's statement, but it is now thought to be about 22.

However, not all of these 22 cell lines have been viable or exhibit sufficient genetic diversity for all research purposes and potential clinical use in the future. Furthermore, they were all grown on mouse-feeder cell layers, raising concerns about the possible transfer of animal viruses and other types of contamination.

The derivation of new cell lines is taking place legally in the private sector in the United States and with non-federal funding in universities. A number of states, such as California, have now committed funds to research on stem cells, including those derived from early human embryos. However, according to the report by the National Research Council, the restriction of federal funding has also meant a lack of oversight of regulations governing research on human embryonic stem cells in the United States.

The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act would ease current restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research by allowing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to conduct and support research on human embryonic stem cells, regardless of when they were derived from a human embryo.

Source(s): The Royal Society (London, UK)
from info originally at

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