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Report Supports US Stem Cell Research Funding with Limitations - 2001-08-09

After deliberating for months, President Bush will announce on television Thursday night whether he supports government funding of embryonic stem cell research. The co-author of a report on embryonic stem cell research concludes that it ought to receive U.S. dollars with some strings attached.

Stem cells are the master cells found in embryos. They can be coaxed to grow into any kind of cell in the body. But because research involves human embryos, it is controversial.

When she was with the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1999, Michele Garfinkel and colleagues wrote a report on human cell research. They reached two main conclusions. The first was that government should fund research on human stem cells. But according to Ms. Garfinkel, limits should be placed on funding embryos that would come probably from fertility clinics.

"The issue was whether the federal government should be allowed to pay for something that would destroy the embryo. And our conclusion was that it would be better for the government now, at least, to only pay for research using cells that have already been isolated in the private sector," she said.

The authors' second conclusion was that no new government regulations would have to be enacted to oversee embryonic stem cell research. The U.S. National Institute's of Health thinks new rules on stem cell research would be necessary.

Ms. Garfinkel says it's hard to predict what impact President Bush's announcement will have. She says a negative decision won't stop the research in the United States, but it will make it harder.

"I think it will just cut down on the number of people doing research because not everyone can get private sector money to do it. And so just the sheer number of people working on it, there would be a loss there. And the other potentially bigger problem there is it does just drive the research into the private sector … with little public oversight," she said.

Public policy analyst Michele Garfinkel says the potential lack of public oversight is a concern among federal agencies charged with biotech safety.