Emily Singer

A View from Emily Singer

New Stem Cell Lines Eligible for Federal Funding

For hundreds of scientists, embryonic stem cell research takes a step into the present.

  • December 2, 2009

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced today that 13 new embryonic stem cell lines are now eligible for federal funding. That means that scientists with NIH grants can study embryonic stem cells derived using newer, more refined methods generally considered to be superior to the older ones. Ninety-six additional lines are also now under review.

“Those were early days in the science of stem cell research, and much has been learned since then,” said NIH director Francis Collins in a press conference on Wednesday, referring to the stem cell lines, created before 2001, that had previously been eligible for federal funding. “In the last eight years, hundreds of embryonic stem cell lines have been derived using non-federal funds, many of them carrying more favorable characteristics.”

As I wrote in a previous story:

Using only the old lines is like “being required to use Microsoft Word 1998,” says Jeanne Loring, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at the Scripps Research Institute, in La Jolla, CA.

The earlier lines were derived using animal products, making them largely unfit for therapeutic use. “There are hundreds of embryonic stem-cell lines out there that have been made under the best conditions, and some of them are patient ready,” says John Gearhart, director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. “They have greater utility, performance, and safety than [the Bush-approved] lines.”

The announcement follows President Obama’s executive order made last March, enabling government support for embryonic stem cell research. That order overturned a previous one by President Bush in 2001, limiting federally-funded research to a set of existing cell lines. The 2001 decree forced scientists who wanted to create and use new stem cell lines, derived from leftover IVF embryos, to garner private funding.

Eleven of the 13 new lines were generated in George Daley’s lab at Children’s Hospital, in Boston, which used private funding to make them. According to the New York Times, “Dr. Daley said that private financing had been drying up and that he was eager to start research on the now-approved cell lines with the help of his federal grant money.” Researchers still cannot derive new lines using federal funds–creating new lines requires the destruction of an embryo.

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