Excitement is passing through local stem cell research laboratories. The Obama administration has eased restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cells research. As a result, a wave of new stem cell lines will become available.
The federal government is poised to approve dozens of new lines of stem cells for research. The Obama Administration lifted restrictions on how tax payer dollars could be used to fund stem cell studies.
For the past two presidential terms, the federal government has limited research funding to just a few batches of stem cells. Now the National Institutes of Health is starting from scratch in evaluating which stem cells can be used for research, including newly derived ones.
Keith Latham is a professor at Temple University. He says the new lines will increase both the volume and quality of embryonic stem cells.
Latham: Since 2001 there’ve been many improvements in deriving and culturing human ES lines. So the lines that can be established currently should be of higher quality than some of the previous established lines. So that’s going to be a real benefit to the field to have better quality lines to work with.
John Gearheart, a stem cell pioneer from the University of Pennsylvania, expects hundreds of cell lines to eventually receive approval.
His concern, however, is that previously-approved stem cells, such as the ones he uses, might be rejected by the NIH.
Gearhart: I tend to look at this as a small price to pay for the community, that is, to really gain access to a much broader number of lines, and ones in which there’d be absolutely no question as to how they were consented, how they were derived, and the comfort level with them.
The stem cells come from unused embryos at fertility clinics. The approval process includes making sure the parents consented to having their embryo used for research.
Michael Christman is the CEO of the Coriell Institute in Camden. His group uses a different kind of stem cell technique, that doesn’t use embryos. But he says the new embryonic cells are still needed for research into stem cell therapies.
Christman: It’s just unclear which will be more useful therapeutically, because it hasn’t really been possible to do research on embryonic stem cells for the most part for the last eight years or so.
Scientists say that better quality stem cell lines will lead to therapies sooner.