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Federal Limits on Stem Cell Reseach
Could Restrict Advances in U.S. Science
Although scientists are finding that adult stem cells are capable of developing into other cell types, they report that the federal government's restrictions on the use of embryonic stem cells in federally-funded research is slowing down U.S. researchers.
"Clearly, with stem cells in hand, we can approach this dream of constructing pieces of organs and tissues," said John Gearhart, C. Michael Armstrong Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. But, Gearhart added that he and other researchers had identified "only a half-dozen lines that are actually useful," from among the 72 embryonic stem cell lines the federal government has approved.
"I am very troubled because of the impact of politics on science," Gearhart said. "Our hope is that the rigor of science will show us all the right way to go."
As foreign countries play an increasing role in stem cell research, it is difficult to evaluate results of studies that do not adhere to U.S. standards.
"Some studies don't have appropriate controls," said Wise Young, director of the W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience and a professor at Rutgers University. "You can't transplant a placebo, but you could have randomized transplantation. We don't now know if any of the recovery results in spinal injuries come from a spontaneous regeneration or from a placebo effect."
Under current federal law, the United States will have a struggle to maintain its leadership role in the field of stem cell research.
"It will put us at a significant disadvantage," said Mark Frankel, director of the AAAS Program on Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law. "Researchers in other countries may not find it acceptable to work with us, and our young investigators may increasingly pursue work abroad."
Frankel suggested that scientists should respond respectfully to ethical concerns about the use of embryonic stem cells, while educating the public about the benefits and enlisting the help of patient advocacy groups in communicating with both public and policymakers. "Scientists ought to be concerned about the public's perceptions," Frankel said.
For more information on the topics addressed at the seminar, "Human Health Frontiers," see the links below:
16 October 2002
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