Stem cell research could lose federal funding

BOSTON, MA – Time is running out for scientists to comment on the proposed National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines for the use of human embryonic stem (ES) cell lines and their eligibility for federal funds. The rules as drafted make it possible that funding for almost all existing cell lines will disappear.

On May 26, the window to provide feedback will close. But apparently scientists have been slow to get their comments in, leaving researchers in the field very concerned.

Patrick Taylor, deputy general counsel at Children’s Hospital Boston, warns in the journal Cell Stem Cell that since the rules are retroactive, ongoing research is threatened.

“Research with almost all existing cell lines will not be fundable, leaving almost no federal funds for research using cells created ethically since 2001. This will mean a loss of much of the research benefit of the last eight years, even though that research was independently reviewed and determined to be ethical under federal standards,” Taylor said. “It is vitally important that scientists are aware of this problem and that the situation is resolved as quickly as possible.”

Ronald McKay, director of the NIH Stem Cell Unit, pointed out that the current draft guidelines may not even allow for continued research on the 21 ES cell lines approved by President Bush in 2001. “It is important to recognize that continued access to the ES cells themselves is important for medical research,” said McKay. “It is common to use the economic metaphor of the ‘gold standard’ when discussing the value of human ES cells. But unlike gold, stem cells will not retain value if they are locked in a bank and we cannot analyze their secrets.”

Researchers from all scientific disciplines and interested members of the general public can comment on the proposed guidelines here until 11 pm EST on May 26.