A study released Sunday has determined that the only human embryonic stem cells available for research with federal funds are unusable. The study, published in the online edition of Nature Medicine, reported that, as previously feared, the stem cells are contaminated by animal molecules found in the culture medium used to grow the cells, according to the Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report.
Dr. Ajit Varki of the University of California San Diego, one of the scientists involved in the study, told Reuters, “It would seem best to start over again with newly derived human embryonic stem cells that have never been exposed to any animal products. However, such an approach could not be pursued under existing rules for the use of federal grant dollars.” President Bush has limited federal funding to only the existing stem cell lines, the very ones rendered unusable.
Last summer, 58 US Senators—including 15 Republicans—urged President Bush to loosen these restrictions, as research shows that embryonic stem cells could hold the key to cures for such degenerative diseases as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes, as well as spinal cord injuries, cancer, and heart disease.
The revelation that all existing stem cell lines are contaminated heightens the need for independently funded research centers, such as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, made possible by California voters. Last November, the state passed Proposition 71, which will allow California to provide $295 million a year for stem cell research over the next ten years.
Scientists believe that treatments using stem cells on people with spinal cord injuries are only a year-and-a-half away, and that clinical trials using stem cell research for heart failure and diabetes are only a few years away.