At NIH, moving ahead on stem cell research

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Regarding the March 15 news story "Stem cell research waiting on 'lines' ":

I am concerned that readers might come away from this article confused about what is happening with stem cell research at the National Institutes of Health. I want to reassure readers that stem cell research is progressing rapidly, thanks to President Obama's new policy. Let's do a quick check of where we are today since the policy went into effect:

First, the number of the lines on the new NIH Stem Cell Registry -- 44 -- is already more than twice the number of the old approved lines.

Second, one challenge with the old lines is that they were limited arbitrarily by a certain date. You couldn't use any stem cell line for federally funded research that was derived after a certain time. There is no such barrier under the new policy. In fact, the list of lines being approved is growing all the time. Right now, NIH is reviewing more than 100 lines, with 230 more on the way.

Third, NIH's new stem cell guidelines, as directed by the president, encourage ethical, responsible research. As long as the stem cell lines meet the ethical guidelines outlined in the policy, they can be used in federally funded research. To be considered for eligibility, however, the cells must be submitted to the NIH for consideration. The onus is on the scientists who derived the lines, and NIH is working closely with them.

Fourth, NIH set a policy allowing grantees using old lines to continue to do so for the life of their grant.

So, are we better off with the new policy? Absolutely. It allows for a continually growing number of stem cell lines to be considered and ensures that research will be conducted ethically and responsibly. It holds so much promise for patients and their families.

Francis S. Collins, Bethesda

The writer is director of the National Institutes of Health.

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