Lawmakers in U.S. House Propose to Expand Stem-Cell Funding

Published: June 22, 2004

June 23 (Bloomberg) — A Republican and a Democrat in the U.S. House introduced a measure that would lift President George W. Bush’s limits on funding of research using embryonic stem cells.

The bill, introduced by Republican Michael Castle of Delaware and Democrat Diana DeGette of Colorado, seeks broader federal funding for the research, which scientists say may help cure conditions including Alzheimer’s disease and paralysis. The legislation would allow funding of research only on embryos that were created for fertility treatment and weren’t used and those that may be discarded.

“The bottom line is we want to alleviate suffering for millions of Americans who have cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, juvenile diabetes, spinal cord injuries and countless other ailments,” Castle said.

Stem-cell research is controversial because human embryos are destroyed when the cells are extracted. The June 5 death of former President Ronald Reagan a decade after disclosing he had Alzheimer’s has led to renewed calls for an easing of Bush’s 2001 restrictions. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan in May urged more research on stem cells. Bush has received letters on the issue from 58 Democrat and Republican senators and from 206 House members of both parties.

In a press conference today, Castle and DeGette were joined by patients with diabetes, a spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s and one who had infertility problems, all which may benefit from gains in embryonic research.

`Not About Politics’

“This is not about politics,” DeGette said. “It is about science, medicine and hope.” She said expanding federal support for stem-cell research may “help end the suffering of millions of people with chronic or terminal diseases.”

The legislation introduced today would also support studies that involve stem cells culled from adult tissues such as blood and bone marrow. While these cells are less controversial because they don’t require the destruction of human embryos, they hold less promise, Elizabeth Wenk, a spokeswoman for Castle, said yesterday.

Bush has limited federal research funding to existing lines of embryonic stem cells out of “moral concerns,” as he said in his Aug. 9, 2001, speech announcing the policy. A line is a group of cells cultivated from a single human embryo. The president said he did support the study of adult stem cells.

Forty-eight Nobel Prize-winning scientists including Harold Varmus, the former chief of the National Institutes of Health, yesterday endorsed Democrat John Kerry for president because he promises to increase funding for scientific research and ease the limits on stem-cell work.

Kerry, a four-term senator from Massachusetts, said he would end Bush’s ban on funding for almost all embryonic stem-cell research.

Companies that may benefit from more support for stem-cell study include Geron Corp. in Menlo Park, California; StemCells Inc. in Palo Alto, California; and closely held Advanced Cell Technology Inc. in Worcester, Massachusetts. LifeCell Corp., a Branchburg, New Jersey, producer of products to repair damaged tissue, is working with Australia’s National Stem Cell Centre.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ambre Brown Morley in Princeton To contact the editor responsible for this story: Robert Simison