Obama's Guidelines for Stem Cell Research Dodge Controversial Bullets

By Eliza Strickland | April 20, 2009 9:06 am

Obama stem cellsThe Obama administration’s new guidelines for research using human embryonic stem cells have staked out a compromise position, avoiding some controversial areas while still encouraging a large expansion of federally-funded research. The proposed regulations would allow research on stem cells taken from surplus embryos at fertility clinics, where in vitro fertilization generally creates more embryos than will be implanted, and embryos not used are destroyed or kept frozen. The guidelines would allow couples to donate embryos for research, as long as they are not paid and are fully informed of their options [Washington Post].

However, the guidelines do not sanction the use of embryos created specifically for research purposes, an extra step that officials say does not yet have public or political support. The draft guidelines also forbid funding for lines derived through parthenogenesis, a form of asexual reproduction in which an unfertilized egg is developed into an embryo. The International Stem Cell Corporation, a California company, has reported deriving stem cells from parthenotes [Nature News]. Finally, the guidelines prohibit the use of stem cells from human embryos created by cloning, although no such embryos are known to exist.

The proposed regulations were issued by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) following President Obama’s executive order on March 9, which overturned the restrictions introduced by his predecessor, George Bush, which had limited federal funding to about 20 [embryonic stem] cell lines isolated before August 2001. Obama left the details to be worked out by officials at the NIH [New Scientist].

As embryonic stem cells can grow into any type of tissue in the human body, researchers are investigating ways to use the cells to treat a host of diseases and injuries; the first FDA-approved trial using embryonic stem cells will test a treatment for spinal cord injuries. Most researchers applauded the proposed rules, declaring that they will open up to federally funded scientists a trove of genetically diverse cell lines, a significant number of which represent specific diseases [Nature News]. However, not everyone was satisfied with the compromise position. “I am really, really startled,” said Susan L. Solomon, chief executive of the private New York Stem Cell Foundation. “This seems to be a political calculus when what we want in this country is a scientific research calculus” [Washington Post].

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Image: The White House. President Barack Obama announcing his stem cell policy on March 9. 

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • http://clubneko.net Nick

    So wait – the Parthenon generates stem cells? Why isn’t ancient greece at the forefront of this technology!?

  • Erika 6th and 7th period Biology

    I think the bill goes pretty far to support new stem cell research for treatment of disease but I agree with Susan L. Solomon that the bill can go much farther. Regardless,I strongly agree with Obama’s actions to reverse President George W. Bush’s banned federal funding for research into stem lines.

    In an article from CBS news that I had read previously to this one Obama states “I cannot guarantee that we will find the treatments and cures we seek. No president can promise that. But I can promise that we will seek them actively, responsibly, and with the urgency required to make up for lost ground.”
    —-I truly believe that Obama’s intentions with this bill are generated to meet the standards about what most Americans and scientists want. Many scientest have constantly been complaining about how they have spent to much time trying to locate funding for research than actually carrying out their research. So as Dr. Holly Phillips states in a previous article I have read “for them this will really have a profound effect.”

  • Louisa

    I don’t understand why the guidelines prohibit stemcells made from cloning in a lab. I think that would help solve some of the moral controversy over the creation of stemcells.

  • Mariela

    I disagree with not being able to use stemcells made from cloning. Stemcell research is a very controversial issue and I also agree with louisa on how it would help solve the moral aspect of it. Its surprising how no cloned stemcells have been made.

  • Lana

    I think that Obama has certainly taken a giant leap by addressing this issue and reversing previous limits set on research. This move may lead to dramatic advances in the understanding and treatment of a variety of conditions. With proper funding, cures for heart disease and other ailments may be better addressed and may even initiate greater efforts from scientists and spark deeper interest on the subject.

  • Suchana

    The bill goes far in comparison to previous bills on the issue, but could definitely go further. It’s hard because of the conflicting moral beliefs that surround the use of stem cells, but cloning is an example of something that can probably be allowed without causing too much controversy. Embryos specifically created for stem cell research should be allowed to be used as well. Since the potential benefits of stem cell research are so great, more freedom should be given to researchers.

  • Steven

    Obama’s new executive orders seem both encouraging and disappointing to proponents of further research into stem cell research and the possible health benefits. Encouraging because they certainly seem a step froward from the previous restrictions to 20 stem cell lines under the Bush administration, but disappointing because they fail to tackle the controversy surrounding stem cells and seem to follow the politically-safe rather than the scientifically suggested route. I also found it odd that Obama did not mention stem cell research during his recent speech on health-care — surely stem cell research has at least an enormous potential to increase the quality of health care in the united states, a potential that should be considered in the new health care bill.

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