Fifty-eight US Senators, from both political parties and representing a majority of the Senate, have sent a letter to President Bush, urging him to change his policy on embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research. Their action comes only a month after a similar letter to the president was signed by 206 members of the House of Representatives.
On 9 August 2001, the President issued an executive order limiting the availability of federal funds for ES cell research. The order allowed federally-funded scientists to conduct research using ES cell lines already in existence at the time of his announcement, but research that would cause the destruction of any further embryos would not be permitted. Since the 2001 announcement, US scientists have complained that the ES cell lines available are not as good as those produced later, which were created using newer techniques, in particular without the use of mouse 'feeder' cells. In 2001, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) predicted a total number of 78 available stem cell lines, but in March this year it clarified the actual number was somewhere between 15 and 19, and that in the 'best case scenario', only 23 of the named cell lines will ever be viable for federal researchers.
Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who wrote the latest letter to the president, said that the death of former president Ronald Reagan may help to influence the debate in the US, especially among the more conservative Republicans. This may be particularly true as his widow, Nancy, has been a well-known advocate for ES cell research (see 'Recommends') since Ronald Reagan announced to the nation in 1994 that he had Alzheimer's disease. Senator Diane Feinstein, who signed the letter, said the issue was 'especially poignant given President Reagan's passing', adding: 'Embryonic stem cell research might hold the key to a cure for Alzheimer's and other terrible diseases'.