With the recent discovery of new ways to sustain stem cells, scientists in the US are speaking out against the Bush administration’s two-year-old policy limiting research on embryonic stem cells that could hold the key to cures for such degenerative diseases as Parkinson’s, neural injuries and diabetes. Bush’s policy, driven by anti-abortion politics, severely limits scientific research in the US to older stem cell lines that are sustained from nourishment by mouse cells. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has expressed concerns about contamination from these mouse cells in which “a mouse virus could mix its genetic material with human viruses already in the patient, creating a new virus with added virulence and perhaps even a newfound ability to spread from person to person,” the Washington Post reported.
The risks found in old stem cell lines because of their reliance on animal cells have been eliminated in the new stem cell lines – which are instead sustained by cells from 14-week-old aborted fetuses or adult human bone marrow cells. Under the Bush policy, scientists are not able to study any of the newly derived lines because they come from embryos that were donated to research after the cut-off date of August 2001.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) sent a letter to Bush asking that the stem cell research policy be changed. Specter and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) expect to convene a Senate hearing on the policy sometime next month. “The lack of availability and safety concerns associated with the stem cell lines currently available to federally-funded researchers are impeding progress toward cures,” Specter wrote in his letter to Bush. “[O]f the 78 stem cell lines identified as eligible for federal funding, only 11 are actually available to doctors and scientists.”