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Stem cell guidelines under fire

Stanford's Irving Weissman, MD, questions who's really in charge of our national embryonic stem cell research policy.

Many scientists have applauded the new guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research recently released by the National Institutes of Health. That's because the number of cell lines eligible for federal funding is expected to increase dramatically - from around 20 to several hundred.

Not everyone is happy, though. The guidelines specifically prohibit federal funding for research on human embryonic cell lines derived from two techniques: that of stimulating an unfertilized egg to divide and that of replacing an egg's genetic material with a nucleus from a different cell.

Acting NIH director Raynard Kington, MD, PhD, cited lack of public support for the approaches and the fact that, at least for the second technique (also called somatic cell nuclear transfer, or therapeutic cloning), no human embryonic stem cell lines have yet been derived in this manner anyway.

So what? says the director of Stanford's stem cell research institute, Irving Weissman, MD. Excluding a legitimate path of scientific research simply due to lack of public support reeks of the political ideology President Obama vowed to remove from decisions of science policy in his March 9 speech. Weissman recently explained his disappointment in a guest blog post for the venture capital firm OVP:

Obama’s declaration of freeing the federal science enterprise from politics, ideology, religious opinion, etc. was and is the clearest and perhaps the most important statement on science policy in my lifetime. The NIH guidelines brought by his employees is not in the spirit of that speech.

So, when it comes to stem cell policy, Weissman asks, "Who's running the show?"

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