Many Stem Cell Lines in U.S. Research Won´t Be Viable, Say Scientists

Those Allowed by Bush Aren´t Enough, They Insist

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TORONTO, JUNE 12, 2002 ( Fewer than half of the embryonic stem cell lines allowed by President George W. Bush for use in U.S. government-funded research would turn out to be viable in practice, scientists say.

All these stem cells would be made redundant soon by new cell lines created elsewhere, scientists told delegates at the annual Biotechnology Industry Organization conference on Tuesday, the Financial Times reported.

Bush announced in August that scientists could work with cells already cultured from human embryos but not with any newly created cells.

The compromise satisfied neither the advocates of stem cell research, who contend the work carries great promise for treating degenerative diseases, nor opponents, who object to embryo experiments on the grounds that human lives are destroyed in the process.

Since then, the National Institutes of Health has been assessing all the existing stem cell lines available in the world. A line starts from cells derived from a single embryo, which grow and divide in laboratory culture.

The Financial Times quoted Mark Rohrbaugh, head of technology transfer at the NIH, as saying the agency had found 80 eligible cell lines from 14 sources.

But stem cell specialists said the true total would turn out to be much lower because many cells in the NIH database were not of sufficient quality for research and had not been shown to reproduce reliably.

“If we ended with 40 lines, that would be a good outcome,” said Alan Robins, chief scientist of BresaGen, an Australian stem cell company with a U.S. research operation in Georgia.

Scientists told the conferees that all the cell lines on the NIH database would soon become obsolete as new technology enabled researchers not dependent on U.S. government funding to produce embryonic cells better suited to treating disease.

Robins noted that the existing lines are derived from “spare embryos” donated by in-vitro fertilization clinics, and “the overwhelming proportion of people who undergo IVF are middle- to upper-class Caucasians.”

“We need a wide ethnic representation,” he said. “In the end, we are going to need several hundred commercial stem cell lines.”

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