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64 Stem Cell Lines OK for Use in Federally-Funded Research

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Aug. 27, 2001 (Washington) -- The National Institutes of Health on Monday identified the sources of the embryonic stem cells that can be used in federally-funded research, shedding further light on how the cutting-edge studies will proceed in this country.

At the same time, researchers still say that there are basic problems that haven't yet been ironed out.

On Aug. 9, President Bush announced that he would permit federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, but only using those cell populations, or cell lines, that had already been derived from human embryos.

Before now, observers of the stem cell issue weren't clear just where those cells existed, and congressional pressure has been building to release the identity of the eligible cell lines.

But according to the NIH on Monday, there are 64 cell lines available for government-funded studies. Tommy Thompson, Bush's health secretary, said Monday, "The knowledge that these 64 embryonic stem cell lines exist and will be available for research should inspire our nation's best scientific minds to begin planning for ways they can aggressively take advantage of this historic and unique opportunity. The scientific community must seize the moment."

The cell lines come from 10 different sources, from laboratories in the U.S., Sweden, India, Australia, and Israel. Swedish researchers are responsible for the most lines, with 24 cell populations that are eligible for U.S.-funded studies.

Twenty of the cell lines are American, from four different sources: BresaGen, a biotech company located in Athens, Ga., CyThera, a biotech company located in San Diego, Calif., the University of California at San Francisco, and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

But scientists still have lots of important questions to answer. Kevin Wilson, a spokesman for American Society for Cell Biology, tells WebMD, "The NIH announcement is a good start. It's good to know where they are. But we need to know about their quality and their genetic diversity. We also need to have the patent and licensing issues ironed out."

Tony Mazzaschi, a director of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, said, "We will continue to seek answers to many of the critical questions that still remain unanswered." The coalition represents science societies, universities, and patient groups.

Mazzaschi said that the coalition is worried "about possible restrictions placed on the use of the lines by their owners as well as about [their ability to be successfully used in research] ... and the status of existing lines." He also said that the group was worried about "U.S. patent and licensing arrangements in relation to internationally developed stem cell lines."

The NIH said Monday, "Experience has shown that conditions imposed by patent owners can be crafted both to ensure research uses and to provide appropriate incentives for commercial development."

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