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US stem cell funding 'extraordinarily close'

19 April 2010
Appeared in BioNews 554

Over a year since US President Barack Obama announced his decision to allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, the widely utilised cell lines, H9 and H7, are still weeks away from receiving federal funding approval. The H9 and H7 cell lines were derived and approved under the Bush administration and are currently owned by WiCell Research Institute in Madison, Wisconsin.

However, for months now the fate of these two much used lines has been uncertain. According to University of Massachusetts Medical School stem cell registry, to date H9 has featured in 551 publications and H7 in 133 reports. Indeed, with the exception of H1 (the only Bush-approved stem cell line eligible for federal funding) they are the most popularly used of all the nineteen Bush-era lines.

As yet, applications for H9 and H7 have not been submitted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for approval, as the necessary paperwork is still being collected and drafted. In order to apply for federal funding the cell lines must demonstrate they meet rigorous standards of informed consent indicated by the NIH. Acquiring informed consent from all donors of the cell lines, together with translation difficulties (the original documents are in Hebrew as the 'H' lines were derived from donated Israeli embryos) have caused the current delays in the process.

Researchers across the United States who use either the H7 or H9 lines in their work are frustrated by the delays and uncertainty. Julie Baker, Associate Professor of genetics at Stanford University, California, is one such researcher; she uses H9 almost exclusively for her research. However, she is contemplating switching over to the H1 line in order to get the funding she needs to continue her research - despite the extra work this will mean to extrapolate data she has already generated using H9. 'With the Obama administration, we thought things were going to get better, and this is almost worse', says Baker, 'If they don't approve these lines, we have to go backwards'.

Erik Forsberg, executive director of WiCell, remains optimistic, however, saying that he expects approval 'in the next month or so' for four cell lines, including H7 and H9.

Stem-cell funding in sight
Nature |  14 April 2010
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