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US publishes new draft federal stem cell research guidelines

27 April 2009
Appeared in BioNews 505

The Obama administration has announced its proposals to fund embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research but it has indicated that federal funding will be restricted to research on cell lines derived from 'surplus' embryos donated following IVF procedures.

Mr Obama reversed former President Bush's restriction on federal funding in March this year and supporters of ES cell research were hopeful that federal funding for the creation of embryos for research, such by performing somatic cell nuclear transfer as is permitted in the UK, would soon follow. The draft guidelines, released by the National Institutes of Health, however, do not allocate state funds to this type of research. Critics have said this is a missed opportunity to conduct research on embryos which have been artificially created to allow researchers to target specific diseases. The New York Times said that although they are 'a significant development', the draft guidelines do not go far enough. 'The proposal is not bold enough and will continue to deny federal financing to some potentially promising research', said the newspaper in an editorial.

The guidelines impose stringent consent requirements on the donation of embryos for research and donors must give consent in writing after being informed of all the potential uses. Donors would also be able to withdraw their consent at any time up until the point of research. Commentators have pointed out the requirements could mean that some of the 21 cell lines that were available for federal funding under the Bush restrictions will no longer be eligible. 'I would counsel the NIH to consider creating an exception for these cell lines if they continue to have very significant scientific value,' said Thomas Murray, president of the Hastings Center.

Following the publication of the guidelines the NIH is holding a public consultation period. The guidelines will be finalised on the 7 July 2009.

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