The Incredible Shrinking Stem Cell Lines

Many scientists believe stem-cell research could one day be used to treat spinal injuries as well as Alzheimer’s, strokes, brain injuries, Parkinson’s, diabetes and heart defects. They also recently the discovery that the cells “also produce druglike compounds that can help ailing organs repair themselves.” Other advances show the versatile cells can be used as “biological pacemakers” and in fighting blindness. Unfortunately, scientific advances have been stymied by the White House ban on federal funds for the development of new stem-cell lines for new research. Check out the timeline:

August 8, 2001: President Bush, bowing to pressure from the right-wing, announces no federal money will be allowed for the development of new stem cell lines. He promises, however, that “more than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines already exist…Leading scientists tell me research on these 60 lines has great promise that could lead to breakthrough therapies and cures.”

May 9. 2003: National Institutes of Health Director Elias Zerhouni reports the president was too optimistic and, in fact, only 11 of the cell lines created by August 2001 are available for research.

November 11, 2003: A medical ethics panel formed by Johns Hopkins University finds “treating patients with the embryonic stem cells approved by President Bush for federally funded research would be unethical and risky” because the approved cell lines, “were initially grown on mouse cells. That could expose humans to an animal virus their immune systems couldn’t fight.”

September 20, 2004: President Bush fudges the numbers and ignores recent scientific findings, claiming: “I agreed to allow federal funding to go forward on existing stem cell lines … Out of those 70 lines, some 22 are functional now. And out of that 22 lines, there’s over 300 different projects that are going forward.”

January 24, 2005: A new scientific study finds the existing stem cell lines should be destroyed. “All human embryonic stem cell lines approved for use in federally funded research are contaminated with a foreign molecule from mice that may make them risky for use in medical therapies, according to a study released Sunday.”