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Bush Administration Defends Limits on Stem Cell Research

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"This is a wonderful day for science," said Lana Skirboll, PhD, the NIH's associate director for science policy.

But Art Caplan, PhD, director of bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, tells WebMD, "If I was the NIH, if I was in a patient group, if I was in a wheelchair, I would not find the president's position acceptable, because whenever the cell lines exhaust or change, there are no more. ... Given the president's moral position, I think that the door will slam shut just at a time when the research would prove promising."

Under the Bush decision, the NIH will act as a go-between linking researchers with the private interests that have already developed cell lines. According to Thompson, "Those companies want to get those lines to the researchers." To assist researchers, the NIH will set up a public registry with information on each of the approved 60-plus cell lines.

Nevertheless, the arrangement raises patent and intellectual property issues that scientists will have to confront with for-profit ventures.

Caplan tells WebMD, "Bush is talking about some cell lines that will never become available here, because the companies won't want to make them available. They are going to push their commercial interests. Companies may say, 'We are not giving this to you unless you agree to give us a share of anything you ever invent,' which a lot of universities will not like."

Thompson said that the NIH would begin funding research using cells from the already-created lines as early as next year.

The existing cell lines come from the U.S. and other countries, including Israel, Australia, Sweden, and Singapore. They were all created from excess embryos from in vitro fertility activities, officials said. According to the NIH, all of these cells meet ethical requirements, including that their parent embryos were donated to science under informed consent and that the embryo donors weren't given money to influence their decision.

Meanwhile, overall reactions varied on Bush's stem cell decision. "Countless millions of real human persons will lose their lives as a direct consequence of President Bush's decision to authorize federal funding for stem cell research," said Judie Brown, president of American Life League. She claimed, "His decision says, 'if babies are already dead, the U.S. has no problem funding research on their body parts.'"

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