Political debates on stem cell research are continuing full force in the US and the issue has been dominating the scientific news from across the Atlantic. Last Tuesday, members of Congress argued over the issues: a pro-life campaigner brought in a set of twins born from embryo donation to show that embryos can develop into children wanted by infertile couples. Their parents, to whom the embryos were donated while they were still in frozen storage, are part of the campaign to convince President Bush to prevent federal funding for embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research which destroys embryos. Pro-research members were accompanied by children suffering from various diseases that stem cell research may help treat. Among others, a twelve year old girl spoke to Congress about watching her twin sister suffer from diabetes, and to urge the President to take the opposite position.
This was followed by debates in the Senate on Wednesday, also the day that the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) produced the detailed report on stem cells requested by Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Tommy Thompson. The NIH report states that both adult and ES cells show great promise, although ES cells appear to offer more advantages at present, including their greater 'flexibility' and ability to 'proliferate indefinitely'.
Also on Wednesday, it was announced that a 'key ally' of President Bush, Senator Bill Frist, is in favour of federally funded research on embryonic stem cells derived in the private sector. Senator Frist, a retired heart surgeon, released a '10 point plan' for research, which includes no federal funding for the derivation of ES cell lines, limiting the number of separate cell lines able to be created, and making the creation of embryos for research illegal by any means. It has been speculated that Bush might be looking to Senator Frist for some guidance on the matter.
On Friday, 61 Senators urged the President to support ES cell research. Two letters were sent to him, one signed by 59 Senators who want the current ban lifted. The other more contentious letter, signed by 13 Senators, called for Bush not only to permit federal funds in ES cell research, but also for legislation that would allow scientists to experiment directly on embryos. The President's decision, which is thought to be imminent, seems to have been postponed while he fully considers the issues.
Sources and References
Debate rages over ethics of stem cell research
Embryo cells' promise cited in NIH study