Obama Admin Suggests More Embryonic Stem Cell Funding

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 13, 2010   |   11:52AM   |   Washington, DC

Taking advantage of an appeals court ruling striking down an injunction against his forcing Americans to pay for embryonic stem cell research, the Obama administration is looking at more funding.

President Barack Obama, last year, issued an executive order forcing taxpayers to finance embryonic stem cell research that doesn’t yet work in animals and has never helped a single human patient.

Two adult stem cell scientists filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the order, saying it hurts the efforts of researchers working with adult stem cells — the ethical kind that doesn’t require the destruction of unborn human life to use to help patients.

A federal judge issued an injunction stopping federal funding, but the Obama administration appealed and an appeals court stopped the injunction while considering the merits of the lawsuit.

Now, an advisory panel to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recommended that four additional embryonic stem cell lines — derived from obtaining stem cells from human embryos killed for their stem cells — receive federal funding.

If agency director Francis Collins signs off on the December 9 committee recommendation in the coming days, as is expected, then the Obama administration will be funding a total of 92 embryonic stem cells lines with taxpayer dollars.

According to a report in Nature magazine, the four new stem cells lines come from Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bangalore, India and from Swedish biotech company Cellartis.

The NIH panel did reject requests for funding other new lines and rejected some from Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago because of “sloppy” consent procedures. Other lines from a Chinese firm were rejected because officials had trouble translating their documents.

Two lines from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston were also rejected.

Meanwhile, Nature quotes Story Landis, the director of NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke, who heads the NIH approval committee for embryonic stem cell funding. He says the number of available domestic embryonic lines for potential funding has fallen off and taxpayer dollars will now flow more frequently towards foreign labs and firms. [related]

“I think we have caught up with the backlog [of domestic lines],” he said. “There’s the possibility that [the committee working group assigned to stem cell line reviews] could go out of business, except for foreign donations.”

Dr. David Prentice, of the Family Research Council, commented on the new lines potentially gaining approval for federal funds.

“NIH Director Francis Collins had previously approved another new hESC line on 28 September and six more lines on 17 November. He will have to consider the recommendations of the working group in regards to the ten most recent lines, but usually follows the working group’s recommendations,” he said.

He is disappointed the Obama administration doesn’t focus on the kind of stem cells that would help patients most and be free of ethical and moral concerns.

“The focus of NIH remains on hype and money, rather than on putting resources towards helping patients now with adult stem cells,” he said.