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New Stem Cells Created for Research
Harvard Scientist Will Make 17 New “Lines” Available

By Nancy Touchette

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Stem Cells

A human embryo, at the “blastocyst” stage, used to create new stem cell lines.
Douglas Melton of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has created 17 embryonic stem cell lines that he plans to make available at no cost to interested researchers.

Embryonic stem cells are the cells cultured from the early embryo that many scientists believe can be coaxed into becoming any kind of cell in the human body and therefore have enormous potential in treating diseases.

The new stem cell lines were created using private funds from the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Harvard. The research is published online today in a special report by The New England Journal of Medicine.

This is the latest in a series of developments that attempt to sidestep Bush’s stem cell policy. In August, 2001, the president announced that no federal money could be used to create new stem cell lines from human embryos.

A total of 78 cell lines originally appeared on what is known as the “Presidential List” of approved cell lines. However, of those lines only 15 are currently available for distribution, and some are beginning to develop genetic abnormalities.

Among other recent developments in the field, earlier this year New Jersey followed California in enacting legislation that allows research on embryonic stem cells. California was the first state to pass stem cell legislation in 2003 when it legalized research on embryonic stem cells, including those from cloned embryos.

Related GNN Article
Human Embryonic Stem Cells: Where Are They?
Each state move was initially confusing, because research on stem cells created from human embryos is not against the law. However, it is illegal to use funds from the U.S. government to create new stem cell lines. Now, both states are taking steps to make the legislation more meaningful by providing a means to fund stem cell research.

New Jersey governor James E. McGreevey announced plans to devote $50 million of the state’s budget over the next five years to stem cell research. McGreevey’s plan would also fund a $6.5 million research institute to be built at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey in New Brunswick.

California also plans to back up its legislation with money. In January, at the urging of researchers and philanthropists, a ballot initiative was introduced that would create a new institute to administer grants and direct stem cell research. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine would fund research on all kinds of stem cells, including those derived from cloned embryos.

Campaign organizers are trying to gather the 600,000 signatures needed to get the initiative on the November ballot. If included, the initiative will ask voters if they favor raising $3 billion for the institute through the sale of state bonds.

Related Sites
NIH Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry
Information on Eligibility Criteria for Federal Funding of Research on Human Embryonic Stem Cells
Several companies are also trying to clone human cells and create new stem cell lines to treat disease. For example, Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts, is using a therapeutic cloning strategy to try to create cells that are genetically matched to a patient’s own DNA. Ultimately they would also like to insert genes into such cells to correct genetic diseases.

Geron Corporation in Menlo Park, California, is following a similar approach to develop cells for use in animals and in humans.

Several bills have been proposed in Congress to restrict human cloning, but none have made it into law. Last year the House of Representatives voted on a bill that would allow therapeutic cloning but outlaw reproductive cloning, but it did not pass. A competing bill that would outlaw both therapeutic and reproductive cloning passed the House, but its companion bill in the Senate has not passed and the issue remains in legislative limbo.

Cowan, C. et al. Derivation of embryonic stem-cell lines from human fibroblasts. The New England Journal of Medicine. Published online March 3, 2004.

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