Congress seeks stem cell side-step

Bills aim to bypass Bush funding ban

Members of Congress yesterday introduced bills which aim to bypass president Bush's restrictions on state-funded stem cell research. Advocates of such research from both major parties said they had "given up on persuading Bush to change his policy". The bills propose that any embryonic stem cell lines should be eligible for federal funding, while providing for close federal monitoring of their use, Reuters reports.

In 2001, Bush issued an executive order "restricting federal funding for stem cell research to only those batches of the cells that existed at the time". It was later discovered that these existing stocks were useless due to contamination with non-human a molecule called N-glycolylneuraminic acid - most likely when they were grown in a lab culture containing animal-derived materials from mice and calf foetuses.

One of the bills' sponsors, California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, explained the need for the proposed legislation: "If the federal government doesn't act, we're going to have a patchwork of state laws - and that's already happening. California, for instance, is launching a $3bn initiative to fund cutting-edge stem cell research. In 2004, New Jersey created a $25m embryonic stem cell research center."

Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin added: "It's now clear that the president's policy offers only false hope to the millions of people across this country who are suffering from diseases that could be cured or treated through stem cell research - diseases like juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's, ALS [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease], and many more."

Feinstein also asserted that she and other senators will introduce a bipartisan bill to back "therapeutic cloning" - or somatic cell nuclear transfer - which produces stem cells directly from a patient. ®

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