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AAAS Backs Embryonic Stem Cell Bill, Citing "Extremely Promising" Medical Research
With competing stem cell measures under debate and set for a vote in the U.S. Senate this week, AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner Monday wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and all members of the Senate in support of the one measure that would allow expanded federal funding of research involving embryonic stem cells.
"The scientific consensus is that embryonic stem cell research is an extremely promising field of research that may lead to the development of more effective treatments for devastating conditions like diabetes, spinal cord injuries and Parkinson's disease," Leshner wrote in a letter dated 9 April.
Currently, two measures are moving toward a vote in the Senate:
Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Reid, would remove limitations imposed by President George W. Bush in 2001 on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The White House policy limits such funding to fewer than 20 stem cell lines that had been created at the time. Proponents say the research would use embryos left over after fertility treatments that would otherwise be destroyed. The president vetoed a similar bill that passed the Senate and House of Representatives last year, citing moral concerns about the destruction of embryos.
Senate Bill 30, developed by U.S. Sens. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), would allow stem cell research only on microscopic embryos that have lost the ability to develop into fetuses. The measure also would support the creation of a bank of stem cells taken from two possible sources—amniotic fluid and placentas. S. 30 would, however, bar federal funding for embryonic stem cell research using excess embryos from in vitro fertilization procedures; similarly, it would bar funding for derivation of stem cell lines from somatic cell nuclear transfer, a procedure in which a human egg is fertilized in a laboratory by implanting the nucleus of another cell into the egg and then stimulating it to begin dividing and multiplying.
S. 5, in addition to expanding federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, would allow for all of the measures advocated by S. 30.
In his letter, Leshner wrote that S. 30 does not go far enough to allow full exploration of all promising avenues of research that hold potential for relieving human suffering and preventing death.
The approaches advocated in S. 30 "are still in the early stage of development and are already eligible for [U.S. National Institutes of Health] funding," wrote Leshner, who also serves as executive publisher of the journal Science. "Thus S. 30 is not a substitute for S. 5.
"AAAS strongly believes that it is only through federal support of diverse avenues of stem cell research that we may better understand the potential values and limitations of each approach, and S. 5 is the best bill to help scientists achieve this goal."
President Bush has indicated that he would veto S. 5 if it reaches his desk, but that he would sign S. 30.
Edward W. Lempinen
10 April 2007