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U.S. Lags Behind Other Nations In Embryonic Stem Cell Research, U.S. Congressional Delegation Says

November 07, 2017

A lack of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research in the U.S. has caused the country to fall behind other nations in such research, according to a U.S. congressional delegation that was in the United Kingdom to learn more about stem cell research, London's Guardian reports. Although human embryonic stem cell lines are being made in the private sector and in private universities that use private funding, U.S. federal funding currently is restricted to 22 cell lines that were made on or before Aug. 9, 2001 (Guardian, 6/1). Rep. Michael Castle (D-Del.), a member of the bipartisan delegation, has introduced a bill (HR 810) that would expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research (BBC News, 6/1). The bill, which was approved by the House last year, would allow federal funding for research using stem cells derived from embryos originally created for fertility treatments and willingly donated by patients. President Bush has said he would veto the bill if it were passed by the Senate. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, in October 2005 said that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) agreed to make consideration of the bill a priority when Congress reconvened in January 2006. Frist last month said the Senate will debate three separate bills on stem cell research, but he did not stipulate which measures would be discussed (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 5/25).

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Castle said, "I'm concerned the U.S. has fallen behind countries such as the U.K. and Asian countries because of the restrictions imposed on embryonic stem cell research." He added that the number of lines on which scientists can conduct federally funded research is "insufficient to get a body of work to the level it needs to be" (BBC News, 6/1). Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), a member of the delegation, praised the U.K.'s "robust and long-standing" policy on embryonic stem cell research. The Human Fertilization and Embryology Act, which the U.K. passed in 1990, permits the use of stem cells derived from human embryos at up to 14 days development for research purposes (Lee, Associated Press, 6/1). She also said that the U.S. restrictions on the research have resulted in some U.S. scientists moving to countries with more lenient embryonic stem cell research policies. DeGette in a statement said, "In addition, leadership in this area of research has shifted to the [U.K.], which sees this scientific area as a cornerstone of its biotech industry." Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), another member of the delegation, said that the trip helped make him more aware of what research is occurring in the U.K., adding, "Unfortunately, this trip is also serving as a reminder of how much the scientific community in the [U.S.] is missing out on research and investment opportunities." Sir Richard Gardner of the Royal Society, Britain's national academy of science, met with the delegation and said that expanding U.S. funding for embryonic stem cell research "would increase the number of researchers who are active in this important field and thus hasten progress toward new therapies" (Reuters, 6/1).

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