The Embryonic Debate

Need funding for embryonic stem cell research? The National Institutes of Health say they’ll only fund projects that use IVF embryos created specifically for reproduction

Stem Cell Research

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Over the past decade or so, seeking federal funding for embryonic stem cell research has been a little like slamming one's head into a brick wall. Funding was banned all together in 1996, and then President Bush loosened the ban slightly (some say negligibly) by allowing funding for embryonic stem cell lines created before August 2001. Yet, this past March, the barricade seemed to be crumbling when President Obama gave an executive order to remove the ban. But wait, all you stem cell researchers. Not so fast. On Friday, the National Institutes of Health issued their draft guidelines, outlining just when, why, and how they'd release federal funding for new embryonic stem cell research.

The answer? NIH will only fund research conducted on embryos created by in vitro fertilization (IVF) for the specific purpose of reproduction. This makes fertility clinics the main source for new embryonic stem cell lines—those that have already been created and those to be created in the future.

This leaves most other forms of embryonic stem cell research ineligible for federal funding. That means, under the draft guidelines, no funding for IVF embryos created specifically for research. It also bans funding for somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), sometimes called "therapeutic cloning," where the nucleus from an unfertilized egg cell is replaced with material from the nucleus of a another cell—such as a nerve, heart, or skin cell. SCNT creates stem cells that genetically match their donor and that are disease specific. The NIH guidelines would also ban funding for embryonic stem cells derived from parthenogenesis, which uses unfertilized egg cells to derive stem cells.

"We believe there is strong, broad public and scientific support for the use of federal funds for research on cell lines from embryos derived through in vitro fertilization for reproductive purposes that would not otherwise be used," Raynard Kington, acting NIH director told HealthNewsDigest.com. "We do not see similar broad support for using federal funding for research on cell lines from other sources."

With President Obama's stimulus plan, more federal money will go to scientific research—which could create new jobs. But because NIH is the country's largest funding source for scientific research, many scientists worry that promising research—such as SCNT and parthenogenesis—will fall behind, leaving private companies and some state agencies to foot the bill.