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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