The Obama administration has authorized the first human embryonic stem cells for experiments by federally funded scientists under its new stem cell policy.
National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins revealed the 13 stem cell lines Wednesday.
"What we are announcing today is just the beginning," Collins told a press briefing. "This is the first down payment on what is going to be a much longer list . . . that will empower the scientific community to explore the potential of embryonic stem cell research."
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Children’s Hospital Boston has 11 of the approved lines, and Rockefeller University in New York has the other two.
Collins said the 13 lines conformed exactly to the new guidelines established in June regarding informed consent by embryo donors.
Embryonic stem cells are grown from the cells of a five-to-six-day old embryo. They are unspecialized cells that can grow into every type of body tissue.
Researchers want to utilize the cells to learn about embryonic development, test drug treatments and possibly grow replacement organs for people afflicted with serious diseases, such as cancer.
In 2001, President Bush restricted federal funding of the embryonic stem cell research to already existing lines. The idea was to respect ethical objections to the destruction of embryos.
Federal funding is still prohibited for destruction of embryos to gather the cells. But if private money finances the destruction, the Obama administration’s new rules permit federally-backed research on stem cells grown from those embryos.
The approved lines came from embryos freely donated by fertility patients for research.
The NIH will look at another 20 cell lines Friday under a different evaluation process for cell lines that match the "spirit" of the consent rules.
"We are just seeing today the beginning of potential flood of stem cell lines," Dartmouth bioethicist Ronald Green, told USA Today.
But there is strong opposition to the new policy. "Ethically, we don't think any taxpayer should have to fund research that relies on destroying early human life at any stage," Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told The Washington Post.
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