WASHINGTON – Hundreds of embryonic stem cell lines, whose use in the United States had effectively been curtailed by the Bush administration, can be used to study disorders and develop cures if researchers can show the cells were derived using ethical procedures, according to new rules issued by the federal government Monday.
President Barack Obama had promised during last year’s campaign to ease restrictions on the use of stem cells in research, and has cited the promise of stem cell research in finding cures for disorders that have so far proved intractable.
The use of embryonic stem cells was not prohibited under the Bush administration, but federal funds were limited to a very small number of stem cell lines, which choked off most research. The new guidelines, issued by the National Institutes of Health, permit federal funding for research using many of the approximately 700 embryonic stem cell lines that are believed to be in existence.
In a move that drew praise from advocates of stem cell research and bitter criticism from opponents, the NIH said it will allow the use of any existing stem cell line that followed broad ethical principles. Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington said an NIH committee comprising scientists, ethicists and advocates will evaluate older stem cell lines to assess how each was derived.
The new guidelines achieve Obama’s vision to expand stem cell research in the United States while strengthening ethical standards in conducting the research, Kington said.
“I think it is a huge step forward,” said R. Alta Charo, an ethicist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. “They are making it absolutely possible to move this field forward and fund the research in a responsible way.”
But Richard Doerflinger, associate director of pro-life activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, decried the guidelines. “For the first time in history, the federal government will encourage the destruction of human life at a very early stage for federally funded research,” he said. “… You and I were once human embryos, and each embryo has the inherent potential to grow into you and me.”