Several scientists told a US Senate subcommittee yesterday that President Bush has severely thwarted research on embryonic stem cells that could hold the key to cures for such degenerative diseases as Parkinson’s, neural injuries and diabetes. Last year, Bush gave into anti-abortion forces and placed serious restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research – currently there are 78 “self-sustaining” cell lines that are eligible for federally funded research.
However, access to these lines has been made “inordinately difficult,” according to Dr. George Daley of the Whitehead Institute who testified before the Senate Appropriations labor, health and human services subcommittee. “The field of embryonic stem cell research is in a fragile state at best under the current presidential policy,” Daley told the subcommittee. In addition, the cell lines approved by Bush were cultivated with mouse cells which means they have very little therapeutic value for humans, Roger Pedersen, a California researcher who has moved his research to England because of the restrictions, told the subcommittee.
Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), who chaired the hearing, told the scientists that he would press Congress to do away with the president’s restrictions, according to the New York Times. Earlier this year, Specter introduced a bill (S. 2439) that would allow cloning for therapeutic services while outlawing it for reproductive purposes that gained support from such anti-abortion lawmakers as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Earlier this month, Specter announced that he had the 60 votes needed to pass the bill but it has since been stalled in the Senate. The House has already passed a bill outlawing cloning for any purpose.