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NIH director supports expansion of federal ES cell research funding

26 March 2007
Appeared in BioNews 400

The director of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), Elias Zerhouni, has said that he supports the removal of the current restrictions on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell (ES cell)  research imposed by President Bush in 2001. 'From my standpoint, it is clear today that American science will be better-served, and the nation will be better-served, if we let our scientists have access to more stem cell lines', he said during a Senate hearing concerning NIH funding. Although Zerhouni is believed to be a tacit supporter of ES cell research, the directness of the comment came as a surprise break with Bush administration policy. The White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, responded saying that President Bush's position remains unchanged and while that Zerhouni is entitled to his opinion, his role as an advocate of science is of a different nature from the President's job to 'balance the moral and scientific considerations of this nation'.

Such high level support of ES cell research comes as stem cell policy is once again under consideration by US lawmakers. The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which proposes to remove the current federal restrictions on ES cell research, is yet to be heard in the Senate after being passed by the House of Representatives last January. The White House has already indicated that President Bush is likely to veto the legislation if passed, since Bush has previously vetoed almost identical legislation. Commentators suggest Zerhouni's comment may now begin to stir debate within the Bush administration. 'I think it will certainly mobilize opinion up on [Capitol] Hill,' said Jerome Zack, a stem cell researcher from the University of California.

Members of the scientific community welcomed Zerhouni's comments. Robert Lanza, director of Advanced Cell Technology, said: 'Bravo, I think that's very courageous of him. He's right on in what stem cell researchers have been saying for years and years. The field has been crippled by lack of quality stem cell lines'. There is much debate in the US and elsewhere, between those against the destruction of human embryos - who claim that adult stem cells have great potential for cures, and research on embryos is unnecessary - and supporters of ES cell research, who claim that the unique totipotent nature of ES cells and their greater ability to be scaled up for clinical application make them an invaluable source for research. Zerhouni was also asked for his opinion on this debate. He replied that pro-adult stem cell views do not 'hold scientific water too well' and that 'all angles of stem cell research should be pursued'. It is 'in the best interest of our scientists, our science, our country that we find ways - that the nation finds a way to allow the science to go full speed on both adult and embryonic stem cell research,' he said.

Embryonic stem cell research gets surprise support
LA Times |  20 March 2007
NIH chief: Stem cell ban hobbles science
AP |  19 March 2007
NIH Director Zerhouni Calls for Expanding Federal Funding for Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Kaiser Network |  20 March 2007
23 April 2007 - by Sam Berger and Professor Jonathan Moreno 
It appears that once again the US Congress will be unable to override President Bush's expected veto of legislation to loosen federal restrictions on human embryonic stem (ES) cell research. In light of this political stalemate, as well as efforts in states like California, New Jersey, and New York to...
17 April 2007 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The Senate has passed two pieces of legislation designed to relax the restrictions on stem cell research in the US. It has approved a much-anticipated bill to ease current restrictions on human embryonic stem cell (ES) research, allowing for federal funding to be used for research on...
2 April 2007 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
Delaware has moved a step closer to allowing human embryonic stem (ES) cell research. The Delaware Regenerative Medicine Act would permit ES cell research under the approval of an advisory council and would allow couples to donate 'spare' embryos for research after undergoing IVF. Reproductive cloning and...
29 January 2007 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
As the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act 2007, passed in the House by 253 votes to 174 earlier this month, makes its way towards the Senate, leading US stem cell researchers - including a high level National Institutes of Health (NIH) official - have voiced their opposition against President...
15 January 2007 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The US House of Representatives has voted in favour of legislation to expand federal funding for human embryonic stem (ES) cell research. The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act 2007 was passed by 253 votes to 174, but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a...
13 November 2006 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
By Antony Blackburn-Starza: There's a feeling of change in relation to embryonic stem (ES) cell research in the US following the mid-term elections, which saw the Democrats capturing both the Senate and the House of Representatives from the Republicans. In the state of Missouri, where ES cell research was a...
20 July 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
US President George Bush has vetoed a bill passed by Congress that would have removed restrictions on federally-funded human embryonic stem (ES) cell research in America. The bill - known as the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 (HR 810) - was debated alongside two other bills...
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