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AAAS signs letter urging President Bush to expand access to embryonic stem cells
AAAS joined more than 100 medical, research and education organizations Wednesday in sending a letter that calls on U.S. President George W. Bush to change federal policy on embryonic stem cell research so that more stem cell lines are available to scientists.
Expanding the number of cell lines would help accelerate the process of research and discovery that holds promise for tens of thousands Americans who suffer from catastrophic diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, heart disease and cancer, said the letter drafted by the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research.
"Most all of the scientific community agrees that for the full potential of embryonic stem cell research to be reached, the number of stem cell lines readily available to scientists must increase," said the letter to Bush dated Wednesday 23 June.
"Mr. President, now is the time to update the current policy. For those of us with a personal stake in the possibilities of embryonic stem cell research, this really is a race against time."
Among the 142 signers of the letter were the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation; the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation; the Association of American Medical Colleges; the Biotechnology Industry Organization; Hadassah, the Jewish women's organization; and more than a dozen major American universities.
At a coalition news conference Wednesday in Washington D.C., patients and caregivers expressed strong support for proposals that would expand federal funding of stem cell research using embryos left over from fertility treatments. Such embryos are usually frozen three to five days after the egg is fertilized, and many are likely to be discarded.
Embryonic stem cell research has been a point of medical promise and social controversy in recent years. Stem cells taken from embryos just a few days after the human egg is fertilized can transform into virtually any sort of human cell; for that reason, scientists think they have the greatest potential for use in potential therapies.
Opponents have likened the process to abortion because the early embryo is destroyed in the process. President Bush expressed those reservations when he announced a policy in August 2001 that restricted federal funding for stem cell research to the 78 stem cell lines that had been isolated and captured up to that point.
But the CAMR letter notes that only 19 of those lines are actually available. Even among those 19 lines, experts say, many, if not all, are contaminated and could be unfit for use in humans.
Sentiment has been building among scientists and advocacy groups to use the fertilized eggs left over after fertilization treatmentswith the consent of the couples who produced them. Such procedures often yield several fertilized eggs, though only one or two may be implanted in the woman's womb. An estimated 400,000 early embryos currently are in storage.
Thus far, administration officials have said the current policy strikes a proper balance between morality and science, and they have indicated that no change is forthcoming.
The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research formed in 2000 to press for embryonic stem cell study and therapy, and now has 85 members drawn from patient advocacy groups, medical and professional science groups and research institutions.
AAAS earlier this year expressed support for efforts in Congress to change federal policy and expand access to new embryonic stem cell lines. AAAS is the world's largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science. The association was founded in 1848 and today serves some 10 million individuals in 265 affiliated societies and academies of science.
Edward W. Lempinen
23 June 2004