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U.S.-Funded Stem Cell Research in Sweden Open to Misinterpretation

By Nancy Touchette

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Stem Cells

Embryonic stem cells can be coaxed into becoming neurons (red).
A recent news story reporting that the U.S. Department of Defense is funding research on embryonic stem cells in Sweden is raising some eyebrows. That’s because the report, distributed by Reuters, suggests that federal money will be used to create new stem cell lines from human embryos, a practice that is strictly forbidden under current U.S. policy.

However, according to Patrik Brundin, of Lund University in Sweden, who received the grant, the money will be used to study embryonic stem cells that have been already approved for research using U.S. funds.

In August 2001, President Bush issued an edict that only stem cell lines created before that date could be studied with federal funds. A total of 78 stem cell lines developed in laboratories throughout the world have been approved for funding, but only 15 of those lines are currently available for distribution to researchers.

Brundin, who studies Parkinson’s disease, is using two embryonic stem cell lines created by researchers at the University of Gotteburg in Sweden, which are on the Presidential list. He is trying to find ways to coax the stem cells to develop into dopamine-producing neurons.

Patients with Parkinson’s disease lose neurons that produce dopamine. They develop severe symptoms, including tremor, ataxia, and mobility problems.

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Brundin hopes to implant the neurons into rats and study the processes that can lead to their destruction. The U.S. Department of Defense is interested in the research because exposure to neurotoxins on the battlefield may trigger a similar process.

According to Brundin, the university press release written in Swedish that announced the grant earlier this month clearly stated that the funds would be used to study established embryonic cell lines.

“Something was lost in translation,” says Brundin. “Nobody here is creating new cell lines.”

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