The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation has said that while the NIH is doing its best to accelerate progress in the field of embryonic stem cells, any success would remain minimal so long as the current Administration policy severely limits federal funding for stem cell research.
In response to a letter from Tommy Thompson, Secretary of Health and Human Services, to J. Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House, JDRF noted that the Administration’s current policy on embryonic stem cells has, by all scientific measures, seriously hindered the pace of research, and poses a significant barrier to any future progress in the field. Specifically, JDRF pointed out that the stem cell lines that the NIH has made available are limited in number, insufficient in their genetic diversity, and cultured with materials that make them unusable for humans – scientific facts that drastically limit the number of Americans who could potentially benefit from treatments developed using those stem cell lines.
According to Peter Van Etten, President and CEO of JDRF, “The current policy is based on an arbitrary factor -- a specific cutoff date unrelated to science -- that negates important technical progress that has been made in the field outside of federally funded research. While the Administration says that it is doing everything it can to accelerate the pace of stem cell research, the fact remains that U.S. scientists working with NIH-eligible stem cell lines face a litany of scientific, administrative, economic and political hurdles that would instantly go away with a change in policy. The truth of the matter is that we need more stem cell lines in order to provide better models for studying and curing a wider range of human diseases.”
While JDRF applauded Secretary Thompson’s announcement that the NIH will create a National Embryonic Stem Cell Bank, as well as three new Centers of Excellence for Translational Stem Cell Research, JDRF emphasizes that the small number of lines eligible for funding (now 19, and unlikely—according to other NIH pronouncements—to ever rise above 23) severely limits the scope of research that can be conducted.
Dr. Robert Goldstein, Chief Scientific Officer for JDRF, agreed that there has been progress made in the study and understanding of embryonic stem cells since 2001. “But I disagree that we are going far enough,” he said.
“The addition of the new bank and the new centers are positive moves, but they should have been in place three years ago. Progress is simply too slow on this front, ” Goldstein said. “When you are striving to cure people of debilitating diseases -- and you have an amazing new potential for helping them -- three years is a long time to wait to get moving.”
He agreed that despite today’s welcomed announcement, the fundamental issue remains that the current policy is too limited and must be expanded. “Ultimately,” he said, “we need new stem cell lines that were grown with better technologies – lines that are genetically and biologically more diverse – in order to speed research along.”