Last week, in its monthly magazine, the Texas Medical Association (TMA) announced its support for human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research and called for federal funding to be restored for new studies to fight disease. This may add to the 'pressure' on President Bush to relax his policy on such research, particularly as it is his home state, and is governed by his brother, Jeb Bush. On 9 August, 2001, President Bush announced that the availability of federal funds for ES cell research would be restricted to cell lines already in existence by that date.
The TMA, which with 39,000 members is the largest association of doctors in the US, published its endorsement of ES cell research after its members approved a resolution supporting the use of federal funds for the research, as well as research on adult stem cells. Dr Leo Cigarroa, chair of the TMA's scientific affairs council, said that he hoped the support of the organisation will influence the president. 'Stem cells have the potential to provide cures or treatment', he said, adding 'ethical considerations should be evaluated as research proceeds'.
This week, US Senator Orrin Hatch appeared on national television saying that there is 'wide support' in the Senate for reducing the ES cell funding restrictions. Last month a bill was introduced to Congress, sponsored by Diana DeGette and Michael Castle, which would allow federal funds to be used for ES cell research on embryos left over from fertility treatments and 'slated to be discarded as medical waste'. Senator Hatch told CNN's 'Late Edition' that although it remains unsure whether Congress will act on the issue, there is enough support in the Senate to ensure the legislation was passed. But he also predicted that a compromise would be reached between Bush and supporters of ES cell research, which would meet 'moral and ethical standards set by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 'That has to be done, or we're going to have a mess on our hands all over the world', he said, predicting also that any ethical standards set by the NIH would be followed worldwide.
Meanwhile, reports the journal Nature, scientists working on the use of stem cells derived from cloned human embryos have been asked to change their terminology. The International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) has asked its members to drop the use of the term 'therapeutic cloning' in future publications, and replace it with the term 'nuclear transfer'. This, it says, is a more accurate term for what is actually happening in the research, whereby a nucleus extracted from one cell is transferred to an egg cell that has had its own genetic material removed. The society also says that the new terminology may help to avoid confusion between this type of research, and 'reproductive cloning'.