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Bush pledges 'culture of life' on ES cell research

Dr. Kirsty Horsey

Progress Educational Trust

12 February 2005

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[BioNews, London] In his State of the Union speech last week, US President George Bush expressed his support for the advancement of science, but made a pledge to support a 'culture of life', calling for a ban on the creation of embryos for research purposes. 'To build a culture of life, we must also ensure that scientific advances always serve human dignity, not take advantage of some lives for the benefit of others', he said. Bush said that he wants to work with Congress 'to ensure that human embryos are not created for experimentation or grown for body parts'. While he did not directly refer to embryonic stem (ES) cell research, an unnamed White House official has said that Mr Bush has no intention of relaxing his policy on ES cells and actually intends to seek 'stricter limits' on all embryo research.

On 9 August, 2001, President Bush put in place a policy that allows federally-funded researchers to work only on ES cell lines that were already in existence by that date. The policy allows them to work on cell lines already derived from embryos, but does not condone the destruction of further embryos. At the time the policy was announced, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) claimed that there were 78 ES cell lines worldwide that could be used. Later evidence shows that the number actually available is closer to 20.

Federally-funded researchers have complained about the lack of ES cell lines available to them, as well as saying that the ones that are available are not good for research as they have been contaminated with mouse 'feeder' cells. ES cell lines created since Bush's policy was put in place have not used mouse cells, and so are potentially better in terms of future research on humans and clinical trials. Two weeks ago, a study by Dr Arjit Varki and colleagues from the University of California, San Diego, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, showed that all the ES cell lines currently approved for use by state researchers in the US are indeed 'contaminated' with animal substances.

Some members of Congress support ES cell research and say that they have a majority in both houses that would enable them to pass legislation allowing ES cell research to take place on embryos 'left over' from fertility treatments. Such embryos, which are estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands across America, would otherwise be discarded. However, the White House official said that Bush's policy was not going to loosen, and that Bush intends to put forward a 'detailed, broader bioethics agenda', in the 'near future'. This would look for limits on human embryo research being conducted by 'rogue scientists'.

© Copyright Progress Educational Trust

Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 12 February 2005   Date Updated: 12 February 2005
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