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NIH moves forward with expanded funding for stem cell research

September 21, 2009 | 12:25 pm

The National Institutes of Health moved closer today to fulfilling President Obama’s pledge to expand the number of stem cell lines eligible for use in federally funded research projects.


Dr. Francis Collins, the NIH’s new director, named members of a working group that will vet applications from researchers who want to add specific lines of human embryonic stem cells to the agency’s official stem cell registry. The group’s analysis will go to an NIH advisory committee, which will make recommendations to Collins, who will make the final decision about whether a particular cell line is acceptable.

To be eligible for federal funding, embryonic stem cell lines derived since July 9 – when the new rules went into effect – must meet strict ethical rules for embryo donation and informed consent. For instance, fertility clinic patients who are interested in donating their excess embryos to medical researchers must give their consent on two separate occasions. It must also be made explicit that their embryos will be destroyed if they are used to make stem cell lines.

But not all cell lines created before July 9 met those particular requirements (including many of the cell lines that President Bush made eligible for federal funding in 2001). Researchers, ethicists and other stem cell advocates argued that older lines that met the spirit – if not the exact letter – of the new rules should also be eligible for federal funds, and the NIH agreed. (For a recap of those issues, check out this Q&Afrom with Patrick Taylor, an attorney at Children’s Hospital Boston and co-chair of the International Society for Stem Cell Research’s standards committee.)

The new Working Group for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Eligibility Review will help decide whether older cell lines make the cut. The nine-member group will be chaired by Dr. Jeffrey Botkin, a professor of pediatrics and medical ethicist at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: These human embryonic stem cell lines from Harvard University -- along with hundreds of others -- are one step closer to becoming eligible for NIH funding. Source: Reuters

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Comments (3)

My mother went from a highly intelligent woman to having a few strange things happen from age 79 to 82. I didn't live close and missed the signs. When my Dad died suddenly at 82, my mother was totally distraught over the phone. 6 hrs later when I got there, and walked in, she just waved at me. My brother pulled me aside and said "she doesn't remember - she has altsheimers. And over the next 5 years she got worse and worse, and by age aa87 lay in a nursing home bed, totally non-responsive despite eyes open. at 88 she was the same except her eyes didn't open. And mercifully, God took her at 89. I might add that my father died of a second heart attack as my mother had become totally confused as I mentioned, and the first one coincided with his recognition that something was going wrong with the woman he was married to and loved for almost 60 years.

And 3 of her 4 siblings all developed altsheimers between age 73 and 84. Plus her mother had it, apparently by age 69. The only sibling to avoid it died at age 72 of a heart attack, and there were some questions about him, although at 71 he seemed perfectly fine mentally.

And this is such a cruel disease. You don't just forget. You start to do things like say "I've got to go home and take care of my mother". And there was no way to make my mother understand that her mother had been dead 50+ years. And the disease progresses continuously, until in my mothers case, she reached a mental ground zero.

I am glad that Pr. Obama has restarted stem cell research. The catholic church has been a big opponent of the only thing that appears to have any significant hope of a cure or major slowing down of the disease progress. They are trying to impose their beliefs on our society, while they hid for decades the abuse of children in their care, moving bad priests from one parish to another, rather then dragging them in chains to the police. Why - because they needed the priests to keep the church's power and funds flowing. And probably - there have been a number of bishops implicated in the abuse directly - because the rot probably reaches all the way to the top.

I also have a friend with a PHD in biotech, who works for NIH in this area. He says that the so called stem cells from skin cell research is far behind the research with real stem cells, and there are questions as to whether anythign of value will come of it. It is not a panacea or a solution at all.

And in my mother's case, the government paid almost $480,000 for her care in a nursing home. She was totally unmanagable at home, and it only gets worse and worse. The kind of money that it will be paying for some altsheimers victims in the future. Money that could go to provide desperately needed medical care for hundreds of children over those years.

My entire family has left the catholic church, with one exception. It has totally lost its way and its mission, especially under the new pope. It is closing schools and parishes as well. Changing its mission from education, social justice etc, to spend the money denigrating and denying the humanity of our gay citizens, and their rights to equality under civil law, totally separate from church law.

Almost all of us chose the Episcopal church. It is so similar to the Catholic church. The Catholic church looks backwards, protecting its criminals, and denigrating and even encouraging violence with its wordsmithing, against a minority group, as it did for centuries to the Jews, until the horrors of the Holocaust of Jesus own people became known. The Catholic church is y a church based on guilt and fear. And its history includes the sale of "indulgences" - sin all you want and you are forgiven - for money. The Episcopal church is about grace and redemption and love. Simple as that.

I still believe that Jesus' Life was a message of God's love for all his creation. As He said that in reiterating that the only two real commandments were Love God, and Love thy neighbor as thyself.

I urge All Catholics, who understand Jesus message, to either leave the church, or at least totally close their pocketbooks to the church.

And watch just how quickly the church will begin to change. Proving again that "money is the root of all evil", but we need to add the word "power" to money in the case of the church.

And this will also help to teach them a lesson that they do not have the right to interfer with other people's beliefs. Including trying to find a solution to the most horrible disease I have ever seen. A disease so cruel that I cannot even keep a gun in the house to end my life in case I come down with it. To spare my children what I experienced. Because I might think someone else is myself.

I read Dr. Collins book, "The Language of God" after reading an article about his amazing work. It is a difficult read unless you have an advanced scientific background/education but I thought it was well worth the extra effort. I am convinced that stem cell research brings great promise. If we are ever to bring down the cost of health care in the USA, it will require finding the "cause" of the diseases that are so expensive to treat rather than just discovering new drugs to treat them.

I myself suffer from breast cancer. My sister died of the disease. My father died of prostate cancer. There is a genetic link but it hasn't been figured out yet. NIH and other research dollars need to become more targeted. Currently research dollars are often granted for political reasons. It is sad.

There is an inconsistency with allowing for the discarding of unwanted embryos in the process of in-vitro fertilization and the prohibition of their use for stem cell research. However, even in-vitro fertilization as carried out is an attack on the value of human life, precisely because of the numbers of embryos that are created and not brought to term for the sake of coming up with one or a few determined to be most viable.

High school biology teaches us that the basic unit of life is the cell. An embryo—a cluster of cells—is a stage evolved from this basic unit of life. It is not potential life, but is life! One of the more compelling reflections on the this matter is of the late actor Ricardo Montalban, who tried to come up with an answer to the question, “When was I I? …Was I I six months ago? … a week after I was born? … the moment I was born?… ” He came to the conclusion that this happened at the moment of the “incredible miracle of life”, when a sperm cell fertilized an egg cell to form what would not be any other than him. He then said, “What is the difference if you kill me now or destroy me then? …Kill me then or kill me now, [either way] I will not be here.”

Focus on embryonic stem cell research devalues our understanding of human life and human beings. If we are able to harness embryos now for some good, what is to say that we will not do so similarly in the future should we find that, say, a certain vital organ of a certain kind of people can be harvested to make life better for certain others? Please, let us not start down that path.

Some say that I will feel differently about this subject if I or someone close to me were suffering from an incurable disease for which embryonic stem cell research could hold the key to a cure. While I do not dismiss that possibility, I like to believe that how I value life now will carry the day if a time like that should ever come. Life is precious—all life. Deciding and choosing that one life ends so that another continues does not assign any further value to either.

Cures not only bring relief to patients, they also bring relief to those around them who otherwise have to care for them, or at the least deal with the fact that they are different. If we can look past our differences and see each other as human beings, life in the world will be better, even for those stricken with incurable disease. Sadly, we would rather just get rid of the differences, whether innate or brought on by illness. We would rather not deal with pain, whether our own or that of one we love. Pain is a reminder that the world in which we live, as grand and glorious a creation it is, is a less than perfect expression of what it can be. We can make it better by reaching out to one another, but we cannot make it perfect. Only God does that, and these imperfections remind us that, yes indeed, there is a Power greater than us.

Faith assists us in what we believe we are called to do in this world. It is also about things beyond this world, about realities beyond what we know and understand, and about life beyond what we live here and now. As much as we want to pursue and hold on to joy, happiness, and life itself, for people of faith, they are but a foretaste of what awaits us in the next life. They are not the ends, but a means to a greater end.


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