New Guidelines to Permit Stem Cell Research
In addition, researchers must specify to the tissue donor whether information that could reveal his or her identify will be retained. It may be necessary to track down a donor if it's determined that he or she has an infectious disease. For their part, donors aren't allowed to say where they want their embryonic tissue to go, or to whom. Additionally, under U.S. rules embryos can't be sold, but they can be donated for research.
The guidelines are similar to an earlier draft version, but with additional stress on informed consent and access to information about the experiments. British authorities have recently taken a more permissive approach, allowing researchers there to clone human embryos for various studies in the early embryonic stages.
Robert Goldstein, MD, PhD, chief scientific officer of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, says stem cell therapy might be able to cure diabetes in a decade. The goal would be to build an islet cell that would produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar under control. "What we'd like to make sure is that sick children are represented in this argument," Goldstein tells WebMD.
At the moment, no stem cell research applications are pending at NIH, but it's anticipated that will change in a dramatic fashion now that guidelines have finally come out. Nobel laureate Paul Berg, PhD, of Stanford University, took on stem cell detractors in a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
"Some have argued that this research is immoral, illegal, and unnecessary," says Berg, a pioneer in DNA studies. "I respectfully disagree on all counts. ... I believe it would be immoral not to pursue [stem] cell research."
Another stem cell pioneer took part in the conference call -- John Gearhart, MD, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Animal studies already show these cells could help victims of spinal cord injury, says Gearhart, and that's only the beginning.
"The most significant consequence will be that the work will move forward rapidly," he says.
But many wonder if the answers will come in time for them and their loved ones. Lyn Langbein is an attorney who ultimately quit her federal government job to take care of her 5-year-old daughter Jamie, a diabetic.