In what is being viewed as a further criticism of President Bush's embryonic stem cell (ES cell) policy in the US, scientists from Harvard University in Boston have announced that they have created 17 healthy and 'scientifically useful' ES cell lines that they will offer for use, free of charge, to other US scientists. Dr Douglas Melton and colleagues have created the cell lines using private funds from Harvard, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The 17 cell lines were derived from 344 human embryo that had been donated for research purposes by patients from a Boston fertility clinic. The research is published in the online version of the New England Journal of Medicine and will also appear in print in the 25 March edition.
The research team will supply the cell lines to other researchers across the US but, in order to comply with the policy of the Bush administration, only other privately-funded researchers will be able to use them. Researchers using federal funds are restricted to using ES cell lines already in existence by 9 August 2001 and identified by the National Institutes of Health. The number of those currently available is now estimated to be 15, far fewer than was originally outlined. The Harvard researchers have also written a 'cookbook' that will help other scientists use the stem cells in research, and to create more cell lines.
In a newspaper interview, Dr Melton said that the stem cells were created using private money because he 'just got fed up' with the restrictions imposed on federally-funded ES cell research. Dr Richard Insel, executive vice president of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, said that 'the feeling was that we don't want our investigators limited and restricted by the number of stem cell lines currently available based on government policy'. In an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine, Elizabeth Phimister and Dr Jeffrey Drazen say that Harvard's ES cell lines are 'the first steps in a path towards substantial progress in our ability to improve the health of patients, especially those with chronic debilitating diseases'. They add: 'There is too much suffering that may be remediable through the therapeutic application of this new approach to place the new cell lines off limits to many North American research scientists'.
The announcement follows news at the end of last month that Harvard University is to open a large, privately-funded stem cell centre in April 2004. The new centre will allow further research to take place outside of the restrictions placed on the use of ES cells by President Bush in 2001. The aim of the project, according to a report at the time in the Boston Globe newspaper, is to bring together researchers from the university and all its affiliated hospitals. The Harvard stem cell centre is expected to be formally announced on 23 April, signalling 'a declaration of independence' from Bush's ES cell policy.
Sources and References
Need stem cells? We got 'em
New embryonic stem cells made available