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US pro-stem cell mission ready for fight

Bush set to veto crunch Senate vote

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Scientists say the 60 cell lines the President referred to are now down to just 22. None of the pre-moratorium lines can be used in medical applications since they have been found to be contaminated by animal cells used in early culture techniques.

Explaining his moral objections, Bush continued: “Researchers are telling us the next step could be to clone human beings to create individual designer stem cells, essentially to grow another you, to be available in case you need another heart or lung or liver.”

Supporters of the Bill argue that such Brave New Worlds are actually more likely in the US given the current state of legislation. Although public money is completely steered away from research on more viable cell lines, private firms seeking to benefit commercially are free to develop technologies and tinker with embryos unchecked. Such a “head in the sand” approach is not just dumb, they say, it's dangerous.

In the UK stem cell researchers must apply to the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Authority for permission to conduct their research. Since its founding in 1991, when stem cell research was itself embryonic, the Authority has managed to sail a course that has satisfied most on both sides of the ethics versus progress debate. DeGette praised the UK's approach as “very impressive”.

The Royal Society's top stem cell expert Sir Richard Gardener cautioned against complacency in the UK though, pointing out that if science suffers in the US, effects are felt everywhere. He said: “More federally-funded research on human embryonic stem cells in the United States would increase the number of researchers who are active in this important field and thus hasten progress towards new therapies.”

When the Senate vote does happen it's likely supporters will get the majority needed to override a Bush veto. Even several “pro-life” Senators have come out against Bush on stem cell research. The House of Representatives is less likely to deliver a two thirds vote against the President however. DeGette said that if Bush does impose his moral objections she would still be hope to overturn the decision.

Langevin said: “Just as these diseases don't go away, this issue isn't going to go away”. An anti-abortionist himself, he sees no conflict between support for both embryonic stem cell scientists and his “pro-life” position. He said: “As far as I'm concerned [stem cell technology] offers hope to millions. What could be more pro-life than that?”®

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