NewsdayMay 14, 2003Some things are too precious

Newsday
May 14, 2003

Some things are too precious to waste. Among them are pinpoint-sized embryos sitting in freezers at fertility clinics around the country. They should be an invaluable source of stem cells for potentially groundbreaking medical research.
But President George W. Bush has barred federal funding for research using newly harvested stem cells.

May 14, 2003

Some things are too precious to waste. Among them are pinpoint-sized embryos sitting in freezers at fertility clinics around the country. They should be an invaluable source of stem cells for potentially groundbreaking medical research.
But President George W. Bush has barred federal funding for research using newly harvested stem cells. So the embryos are off-limits to most scientists, even though many will simply languish in the deep freeze until they are eventually destroyed. Two recent announcements have spotlighted this unfortunate state of affairs.

First, Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, said there are far fewer human stem-cell lines available for research than expected when Bush placed those harvested after Aug. 9, 2001 off-limits. There are only 11 instead of the expected 70 lines of the cells, which have the extraordinary ability to develop into any of the body’s tissues.

So few cell lines offer limited genetic diversity. And those that meet Bush’s test were cultured with mouse cells, which introduce the possibility of contamination with mouse viruses. (Stem cells can now be cultured without mice. )

Second, there are 396,526 embryos in fertility clinic freezers around the country, according to the first nationwide tally by the American Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. Most couples get pregnant without using all their embryos; so many are left frozen.

And 11,000 of these embryos have been designated by donors for research, enough to produce a couple of hundred viable stem cell lines, according to the assisted reproductive technology organization. But no federal money can be used to harvest stem cells from those embryos.

Swayed by abortion politics, Bush barred federal support for research using stem cells harvested after Aug. 9, 2001, the day he announced the policy. The idea was to avoid federal complicity in the destruction of embryos.

Bush should relax the funding ban. Researchers should be allowed to use donated frozen embryos destined for eventual destruction to aid in their quest to cure such maladies as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries.