CLASHING WITH HIS BOSS

Going Against Bush, NIH Director Urges Expanded Stem Cell Research

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By Mary Ann Akers
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2007

In a magazine arriving in mailboxes this week, National Institutes of Health Director Elias A. Zerhouni suggests that embryonic stem cell research should be expanded.

"All avenues of research need to be pursued," Zerhouni says in the newest edition of Medline Plus, a journal published jointly by the NIH and Friends of the National Library of Medicine. He adds: "We must continue the research at all levels, or there will be no progress."

Those views put Zerhouni, who serves at the pleasure of President Bush, at odds with his boss. Bush has twice vetoed legislation that would do exactly what Zerhouni is espousing: expanding research on new embryonic lines.

The previous time Zerhouni separated himself from the president's position on stem cell research was in March during testimony before Congress. He said then that the administration's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research should be lifted. A Congressional Quarterly health-care reporter wrote at the time that Zerhouni "perhaps put himself on a path toward unemployment."

The NIH director declined to be interviewed, but his spokesman, John Burklow, said: "As the director of the country's primary biomedical research agency, Dr. Zerhouni believes that he serves the president, and the American people, best by providing candid scientific expertise and perspective. He believes his input is appreciated."

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said that Bush "has to draw the line in a different place than Dr. Zerhouni" -- from a "broader view" than that of a scientist. Bush's policy, he said, takes into account "moral and religious views."

Akers writes The Sleuth, a blog on washingtonpost.com.


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