The House later this week plans to vote on a measure (HR 3, S 5) -- called the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 -- that would expand federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, CQ HealthBeat reports (Reichard/Wayne, CQ HealthBeat, 1/8).
Federal funding for embryonic stem cell research is allowed only for research using embryonic stem cell lines created on or before Aug. 9, 2001, under a policy announced by President Bush on that date. Bush in July 2006 vetoed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 (HR 810), which would have expanded stem cell lines that are eligible for federal funding and allowed funding for research using stem cells derived from embryos originally created for fertility treatments and willingly donated by patients (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 1/4). The House and Senate versions of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 are the same as the bill Bush vetoed, Reuters reports (Fox, Reuters, 1/8). The Senate is expected to consider the legislation in a few weeks. According to the AP/ABC News, Bush is "all but certain" to veto the measure again if it is passed by Congress (Kellman, AP/ABC News, 1/9). "I think we may be close to or at an ability to override the veto in the Senate," Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), sponsor of the legislation, said (Reuters, 1/8).
According to the AP/ABC News, opponents of embryonic stem cell research have been "bolstered" by a study published in the Jan. 7 online edition of the journal Nature Biotechnology that found that stem cells derived from human amniotic fluid appear to offer many of the same benefits of embryonic stem cells -- including the ability to grow into brain, muscle, bone and other tissues (AP/ABC News, 1/9). "This discovery provides great promise for both the future of medical research and the protection of unborn human embryos and may provide the basis for a consensus approach on the challenging issue of stem cell research," House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), said in a statement Monday, adding, "In light of this breakthrough, I urge the Democratic leadership of the House to reconsider its decision to force stem cell legislation to a vote this week without hearings or committee debate" (CQ HealthBeat, 1/8). Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), sponsor of the Senate version of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, said the new study "offers no evidence that amniotic stem cells have as much potential as embryonic stem cells to differentiate into all other cells in the human body" (AP/ABC News, 1/9). The measure's House co-sponsors, Reps. DeGette and Michael Castle (R-Del.), on Monday distributed a letter to colleagues that said, "While this research study is very exciting, it is critical to remember every type of stem cell is different" (CQ HealthBeat, 1/8). DeGette said, "People who were already opposed to the bill will simply use this as an excuse," adding, "I don't think we'll lose any votes because of this." White House spokesperson Tony Snow on Monday said, "The vast majority of breakthroughs right now, virtually all, have involved those other than embryonic stem cells. And the president certainly supports continued research along those lines" (Reuters, 1/8).
PBS' "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" on Monday interviewed Anthony Atala, senior author of the Nature Biotechnology study and director of Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University (Ifill, "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," PBS, 1/8). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer. The complete transcript is available online.