AAAS Urges Congressional Support For Embryonic Stem Cell Proposal
Alan I. Leshner
AAAS has urged the U.S. Senate to pass a measure that would give researchers access to new embryonic stem cell lines derived from embryos that would otherwise be discarded at fertility clinics.
In a letter distributed to all senators, Alan I. Leshner, the CEO of AAAS and executive publisher of Science, wrote: "We believe strongly that embryonic stem cell research should proceed in an ethical manner that engenders public confidence."
Leshner urged support of a bill introduced by Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) that would expand the current federal policy by allowing researchers to derive new stem cells lines from excess embryos created by in vitro fertilization. That bill and several other measures dealing with stem cells and human cloning are awaiting Senate floor action.
As an embryo develops just after fertilization, its stem cells have the capacity to turn into any type of body cell. For research and possible treatment purposes, such cells are best derived from embryos in their earliest stagesjust a few days old and perhaps a hundred cellsand many experts have looked to embryos left over from in vitro fertilization as a source. In many cases, the frozen embryos would otherwise be discarded.
Under the existing policy approved by President George W. Bush, only stem cell lines created before 9 August 2001 are available for use by federally funded researchers. But that has left fewer than 20 lines available for experiments. Scientists, medical researchers and patient advocacy groups have been urging that more stem cell lines be made available so that research can proceed on possible treatments for myriad afflictions, from Parkinson's disease and strokes to burns, spinal injuries and strokes.
While noting the recent interest in potential methods for deriving stem cells without the destruction of human embryos, Leshner said there have been no peer-reviewed articles yet published that report successful results with such methods.
Thus, he said, "We believe it is important not to confuse this subject with the issue addressed in the Specter/Harkin bill, which focuses on stem cell research utilizing cell lines derived from existing embryos created through in vitro fertilization," Leshner said. "As we have stated in the past and continue to believe, it is only through federal support of research on both adult and embryonic stem cells that we may better understand the potential value and limitations of each type."
A 1999 AAAS report laid out guidelines for ethical use of embryos to derive stem cells. It said couples who donate embryos for stem cell use must first be fully informed of their options, including donating them to infertile couples, destroying them or donating them for research purposes.
See Alan Leshner's full letter here.
21 July 2005