Draft guidelines for embryonic stem cells issued

Only stem cell research on "spare" IVF embryos should be funded by the Federal government, according to guidelines issued by the National Institutes of Health. The announcement came about 5 weeks after President Obama announced that he would scrap restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research imposed by his predecessor. However, he left the details up to the NIH. The guidelines are open for public comment for 30 days and the final rules will be issued in July.

American scientists put up a good front, but they were clearly disappointed. The guidelines "look narrow on the surface and they are narrow,"  Sheila Jasanoff, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government told the Boston Globe . "It's trying not to get into the morally thorny territory of creating embryos for research, which is unsettled and undeliberated -- and potentially politically quite messy."  And Susan L. Solomon, CEO of the New York Stem Cell Foundation told the Washington Post, "I am really, really startled. This seems to be a political calculus when what we want in this country is a scientific research calculus."

For scientists one problem is that they will only be able to get funding for IVF embryos with the parents' informed consent. Those who are currently working on IVF-derived stem cells without consent won't get funding. Nor will they be able to get funding for stem cells created specifically for research or created by somatic cell nuclear transfer (basically, cloning).

"There's compelling broad support both in the scientific community and the public at large" for the fertility-clinic approach, says Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington. "There is not similar broad support for using other sources at this time." One prominent disgruntled scientist (who insisted on remaining anonymous lest he offend the President) said that the decision was "much more political than we thought it would be. This is extremely limiting." Is this abackflip on Obama's promise that he wanted to ensure that "scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda – and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology." ~ AP, Apr 17

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