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NIH May Clear Discarded Embryos For Research

The National Institutes of Health announced Friday that it will provide federal funding for embryonic stem cell research only if the cells are left over in fertility clinics and no longer needed for reproduction.

The draft funding guidelines — implementing a policy announced by President Obama last month — have managed to anger those on both sides of the political controversy.

The NIH says federal research dollars would not be spent on stem cells derived from embryos created solely for research purposes.

"We think this is our best judgment now for guidelines that allow us to fund the most scientifically worthy science that's ethically responsible," said acting NIH director Raynard Kington. "We are confident that the new guidelines will greatly expand the number of human stem cell lines that are eligible for federal funding."

Under the Bush administration, funding for stem cell research was limited to a small number of cell lines that were created before August 2001.

Other Requirements

The draft guidelines will be published in the Federal Register next week and are subject to a 30-day public comment period.

They also include several other requirements for funding. For example, researchers will need to obtain consent or certify that a woman or couple who has donated the embryo agrees to its scientific use. The donation must be voluntary.

The guidelines also forbid the mixing of cells from different species, such as monkeys and other primates, to create embryos for research.

Criticism From Both Sides

Some researchers in the field are disappointed that the new rules don't permit the creation of embryos for scientific purposes.

"I'm very unhappy," said Irv Weissman, director of Stanford University's Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. "I believe the NIH — not President Obama — has replaced President Bush's ideology with their own ideology."

Scientists will still be free to use private funds for all kinds of research using embryonic stem cells, including those made for science only.

Meanwhile, those who are opposed to all research that requires destruction of human embryos say they doubt the limits will hold.

"We believe that today's action may be part of a 'bait-and-switch' strategy, under which Democratic leaders in Congress will suddenly bring up new legislation that they will claim codifies today's NIH action, but which will in fact authorize further expansions involving the deliberate creation of human embryos for use in research, by human cloning and other methods," said Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee.

Final requirements for stem-cell research funding are expected in early July.

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