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Subcommittee Examines Stem Cell Research

On October 31, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education held its eleventh hearing to examine human embryonic stem cell research. Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-PA) chaired the hearing in lieu of Subcommittee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA).

Referring to a provision in the Senate’s FY2002 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill (S. 1536) that would provide $1 million for the Department of Health and Human Services to educate individuals about embryo adoption, Sen. Specter said, “If there was any opportunity for these embryos to produce a human life, and there are those who would be willing to adopt the embryos and take the next step forward, that is something which certainly ought to be encouraged and this subcommittee is very anxious to promote that.”

Dr. Wendy Baldwin of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) told the subcommittee about the NIH’s progress in moving forward with federally funded stem cell research. She stated that the NIH expects to make the first grants for such research in 2002.

Additionally, the agency is currently establishing a Web-based human embryonic stem cell registry that would list all of the stem cell lines that are available for research using federal funds. Noting that “there’s a great deal of work to do,” Dr. Baldwin said, “We are eager to explore the enormous scientific opportunities here.”

Dr. Bert Vogelstein of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) discussed a report issued by the National Research Council and the IOM’s Committee on the Biological and Biomedical Applications of Stem Cell Research. Dr. Vogelstein specifically focused on two recommendations made in the report. “First, while much can be learned from existing embryonic stem cell lines, if they are made widely available for research, several concerns about these lines strongly suggested that we will need to develop new stem cell lines in the future,” he said. Second, Dr. Vogelstein recommended that researchers be allowed to pursue therapeutic cloning technology to further stem cell research.

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