Despite original estimates that Bush administration restrictions on stem cell research allowed access to more than 70 existing stem cell lines, the actual number of stem cell lines is much smaller. National Institutes of Health Director Elias Zerhouni wrote in the journal Science that in fact only 11 human stem cell lines are available to scientists for research, according to the Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report. Zerhouni said that the original estimates were based on those in early stages of development.
This development has further ignited calls from scientists, patient advocates and lawmakers, for the Bush administration to change its policies. “It is not sound policy to retain the current restrictions,” Science Editor-in-Chief Donald Kennedy wrote in the latest edition of the journal.
Driven by anti-abortion politics, President Bush announced two years ago severe limits on research on embryonic stem cells that could hold the key to cures for such degenerative diseases as Parkinson’s, neural injuries and diabetes. Under the Bush policy, scientists are not able to study any newly derived stem cell lines because they come from embryos that were donated to research after the cut-off date of August 2001.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology and the RAND Corporation, there are currently 396,526 human embryos frozen in storage at fertility clinics across the nation – approximately 11,000 of those have permission to be used for research. However, scientists are not able to access any of the nearly 400,000 embryos currently in storage because of the Bush policy. “These embryos could be put to a number of good research purposes,” Harvard University stem cell scientist Douglas Melton told the Washington Post, including the study of birth defects and the development of treatments for serious diseases.