Bipartisan Group in Congress Introduces Stem Cell Funding Bill

A bipartisan group of 156 Senators and Representatives introduced a bill this week to expand federal funding for stem cell research. The bill is aimed at loosening restrictions that President Bush placed on federal funding for stem cell research in 2001, which limited federal funding to research that uses stem cells that existed before his policy. A recent study conducted at the University of California San Diego found that all human stem cells eligible for federal research were found to be contaminated. “Because of President Bush’s restrictive stem cell policy, scientists face two choices: either compete for the very limited private funding that does not restrict access to stem cell lines or accept federal support and use only the 22 contaminated lines created before August 9, 2001,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), a major sponsor of the bill in the House.

The new bill would allow scientists receiving federal funding to use stem cells derived from embryos at fertility clinics that will otherwise be discarded, according to the Washington Post. Although the bill has the backing of some influential conservatives such as the ardently anti-abortion Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), House leadership is opposed to the bill and may not bring it to the floor, according to the Post.

“It’s now clear that the President’s policy only offers false hope to the millions of people across this country who are suffering from diseases that could be cured through stem cell research,” said Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), a co-sponsor of the bill, according to Reuters. Research on 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. 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.

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Statement of Diana DeGette 2/16/05; Washington Post 2/17/05; Reuters 2/16/05

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