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Stem cell research funding called vital

Funding for human embryonic stem cells research was the focus of a congressional hearing Thursday. The future of the funding has been in question since a federal judge last month issued a temporary injunction barring the NIH from supporting the research. The judge, ruling in a case filed by two scientists who work on alternatives to the cells, said the funding violated the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which bars federal funding for research that involves the destruction of human embryos.

The Obama administration appealed, and a higher court lifted the injunction while it considers the case. Another court hearing is scheduled later this month. In the meantime, while the NIH resumed funding the research, the case has thrown the field into turmoil.

Several members of Congress are pushing for legislation that would permanently sanction the funding.

Experimental stem cell treatments offered in China have lured American patients such as 9-year-old Kara Anderson, who has cerebral palsy. (Carlos Javier Ortiz)

At the start of a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) decried the uncertainty the court case has created for the field, which he said holds promise for treating a host of ailments. Harkin said the ruling was especially frustrating, coming at a time when the Obama administration had just started to increase federal support for such research.

"At last, we thought, our brightest young minds could enter this field without worrying that they'd go to the lab one day and find the doors ordered shut by someone in Washington, D.C.," Harkin said. "At last, we thought, we could begin to realize the promise of embryonic stem cell research."

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss), however, said the money would be better spent on other types of cells, such as stem cells obtained from adults. Wicker, who co-authored the law at issue in the funding, said that many Americans objected to their tax money being used for human embryonic research.

"This debate involves profound ethical and moral questions," Wicker said. "This is a matter of conscience for me and millions of Americans who are deeply troubled by the idea that their taxpayer dollars may be used to destroy another human life when there are other proven techniques out there available."

In his testimony Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, said the NIH already spends more money on adult stem cells than embryonic stem cells. But Collins argued that continued federal support for embryonic stem cell research was crucial.

"Today there is a cloud hanging over this field," Collins said.

In their prepared remarks, two prominent stem cell researchers--George Daley at Harvard and Sean Morrison of the University of Michigan--disputed claims that other cells are equally good or perhaps even better. Both argued it was crucial to continue studying both embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells and described the how the court case has affected their labs. Daley said the uncertainty had, for example, forced a doctoral student in his lab to abandon promising work on embryonic stem cells for sickle cell anemia. Daley said he himself faced losing his largest grant to study differences between embryonic stem cells and possible alternatives.

Here's a excerpt of his prepared testimony:

"With the recent upheavals, scientists have again been reminded that human ES [embryonic stem] cell research is on fragile and fickle footing. The cloud that hangs over the field saps enthusiasm for planning a long-term program of NIH grant-funded human ES cell research, which is the bedrock of most research careers."

The hearing was being webcast here.

By Rob Stein  | September 16, 2010; 10:49 AM ET
Categories:  stem cells  
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Embryoic stem cell research has done nothing except waste taxpayer money (all you have to do is check the facts). The money should be put in adult stem cell research which does not kill anything and actually works!

Posted by: wdsager | September 16, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

neo-cons care not for Americans, just their own psychotic agenda... blocking stem cell research yet not uttering a word about all the fetuses that are dumped every year.

Posted by: kkrimmer | September 16, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

The simple fact is, and never mentioned by the media, is that embryonic stem cells are pattentable and adult stem cells are not. The advances have all been made with adult stem cells and the only avenue for research money is from Federal sources and private foundations. Multi-national drug corporations are vitally interested in embryonic stem cell research where they will reap untold wealth if it ever works. funding embryonic stem cells by the Federal tax dollar coffers will eleminate the good work that is being done which actually is helping people.

Posted by: Postreader54 | September 16, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

I have a compromise position - a test case - which should appease both sides of the aisle on this issue.

First, for funding, over turn Exec Order 13166, a pandering unfunded mandate issued by Bill Clinton that costs taxpayers $350 billion a year and serves no concrete betterment for the USA that 80% of American taxpayers do not support.

Second, use those saved 1/3 trillion dollars a year to spend on applied stem cell "CURES", not further advanced
"advanced", never ending, aimless research.

Provide those saved 1/3 trillion dollars to NIH on the condition that they CURE just one costly disease (like heart diesease, diabetes, lung cancer) within 3 years of funding receipt. And mandate the FDA to cooperate to that end.

If NIH can cure just one costly disesase and affordably market the treatment via hospital networks, then give NIH another $1/3 saved trillion to take on another cure success.

If NIH refuses to take the challenge or fails on any count after taking the funding, fire them and offer the same deal to private Industry researchers. If no one takes the deal, it doesn't say much for the advertised stem cell cures.

There's a bi-partisan solution to proving and applying (or not) stem cell cures at no cost.

Posted by: Patriot12 | September 16, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

The reprogrammed adult cells proposed by Wicker as alternatives for human embryonic stem cells in fact are cancer cells. If our money cannot be used to study the only hope and solution for many patients on the dying beds, why it is ok to use it to make cancers and put in human?

Posted by: karakutus | September 16, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Many Americans don't want their taxdollars spent on the bloated defense budget either. How many innocent Iraqi and Afghani children have been killed by our weapons. Is Sen. Wicker concerned about them or is he simply pandering to a minority opinion to get reelected. I bet that when someone in his family needs treatment for a disease that can be cured through discoveries based on embryonic stemcell research, Wicker will be first in line. How dare politicians deny treatment to people who need it. If one doesn't agree with the process, no one will be forced to take advantage of it. My tax dollars are used everyday on many things I don't agree with but this is a democracy and sometimes you don't get your way.

Posted by: jp1943 | September 16, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

I'd rather die a little sooner than to take some tiny, unborn, innocent infant's life to experiment on health improvement. As a Christian, I'll have to answer some day for my political life--including how my tax money was used.

Posted by: Forward11 | September 16, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Well California state sponsored stem cell research claims to be the biggest source of stem cell research funding in the world. They have a six year history. What kind of product have they produced? I don't have any ethical problem with stem cell research. But, if I lived in California, I certainly would have voted against borrowing money with a bond issue to fund it. I suspect that adult stem cell research has much more prospect of yielding near term results. By the time anyone understands enough about stem cells to get useful therapeutic results with them, people will probably be able to generate cells with the same potential as embryonic cells from adult stem cells or other specialized adult cells. Of course there is always some possiblity that people will have more success with embryonic stem cells than I expect. But the good people of California have already decided to risk their money on that chance. So it is not really clear why federal funding is such a pressing issue.

Posted by: dnjake | September 16, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Embryonic stem cells: good for PATENTS.
Adult stem cells: good for PATIENTS.

Posted by: bmmg39 | September 16, 2010 11:49 PM | Report abuse

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