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Bush Backs Strictly Limited Stem Cell Research

Stem Cell Research

WebMD Feature

Aug. 10, 2001 (Washington) -- After months of consideration, President Bush has announced that he will allow U.S. funding for studies on embryonic stem cells, but only on more than 60 cell populations that he said had already been removed from embryos in privately funded research.

The decision, Bush says, ensures that no taxpayer money will go to research on cells not yet taken from embryos, since that requires the destruction of the embryo and "its potential for life". At the same time, he said, his compromise permits research on a field that scientists say holds huge promise for breakthrough treatments and even disease cures.

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"Embryonic stem cell research offers both great promise and great peril, so I have decided that we must proceed with great care," Bush said. The President unveiled his decision in a prime-time evening TV address from his Texas ranch.

Embryonic stem cells are unspecialized, self-renewing cells. Scientists believe that they can multiply and manipulate the cells so that they become brain, heart, pancreas, or many other types of cells.

Bush said that his decision "allows us to explore the promise and potential of stem cell research, without crossing a fundamental moral line, by providing taxpayer funding that would sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos." The embryos in question are about five days old, and contain a total of about 50 to 100 cells. Their total size is less than the head of a pin.

According to Bush, the stem cell funding issue "lies at a difficult moral intersection, juxtaposing the need to protect life in all its phases, with the prospect of saving and improving life in all its stages."

How much research the Bush plan would actually allow is not yet certain. Although he spoke of more than 60 existing cell lines, or cell colonies developed from that many embryos, there are discrepancies on the actual number. For example, the NIH said in a June report that there were about 30 lines, and the National Health Council, an umbrella group of patient organizations and other health groups, said that there were only about a dozen.

Regardless of the number, many patient groups and scientists claim that limiting research to the existing cell lines isn't good enough. Council spokesman Chris Paladino tells WebMD, "Scientists and researchers are telling us that they need hundreds of cell lines."

According to NIH's June report, few studies have compared stem cell lines, each of which carries a unique genetic profile. "It may be that one source proves better for certain applications, and a different cell source proves better for others," the NIH said.

Myrl Weinberg, president of the National Health Council, said she was glad that Bush didn't ban all funding for the research, but was "very sorry that [he] did not recognize the need for developing additional stem cell lines, and that some life saving treatments may never be discovered."

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