Bush to Decide on Stem-Cell Funding In Due Course
Anjetta McQueen,
Associated Press Writer

Frist offered a compromise that he said would allow stem cell research to progress "in a manner respectful of both the moral significance of human embryos and the potential of stem cell research to improve health." Bush, also an abortion opponent, is considering whether to allow Federal funds to pay for research on stem cells taken from human embryos. "This is way beyond politics," Bush said. "This is an issue that speaks to morality and science and the juxtaposition of both."

Stem cells are master cells that can generate body tissue. Scientists believe the cures for many diseases could be unlocked from research using stem cells. Abortion opponents say harvesting the stem cells requires the death of an embryo, which many regard as human life.

A Federal health research report released Wednesday said scientists should be free to pursue all avenues of research, including that involving human embryos. Supporters also embraced the 200-plus page report from the National Institutes of Health, though it did not specifically call for Federal funding. Opponents favor research using " adult" stem cells, which are taken from mature organs and then manipulated in the lab. The Federal researchers said embryonic stem cells can develop into all types of cells and tissue, a flexibility that may be lacking in adult stem cells.

"I strongly believe that we have measured the question carefully, and that it is time to move on," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, whose Senate panel oversees Federal health spending and held the hearing where the report and Frist's opinion were made public. He added he will push for legislation allowing the stem-cell funding if Bush doesn't approve it.

"The NIH report is clear on this important point: Embryonic and adult stem cells are different and both present immense research opportunities for potential therapies," Harkin said at the hearing. Scientists believe they can learn to direct the development of embryonic stem cells to grow mature cells or tissues that could be used to treat disease. Some estimate that stem cells could benefit more than 100 million patients with such disorders as Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease, diabetes, and spinal cord injuries.

Most of Frist's points are consistent with the NIH guidelines. He would also ban cloning of embryos for research. House lawmakers plan to take up that issue Thursday. Some research scientists have rejected certain restrictions, especially the limits on stem cell lines. There currently are approximately one-dozen embryonic stem cell lines. But researchers say it will take experiments with scores, perhaps hundreds, of embryonic stem cell lines for scientists to be confident that basic biological discoveries are universal and not characteristics that are unique to the limited number of cell lines.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Frist's statement "carries great weight and has a great deal of respect" because of his medical expertise. A key abortion opponent, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, also supported federal funding for stem cell research. But he added that he is "troubled that some companies would create embryos in order to conduct this research." "This type of research is indicative of the problems we will continue to encounter if we don't allow Federal funding with strict guidelines for embryonic stem cell research," Hatch said.

On the Web:

HHS fact sheet: http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2001pres/01fsstemcell.html