Archive for Saturday, August 25, 2001

Private researcher says he’ll create stem cell lines

August 25, 2001


— A privately funded Harvard University researcher soon will begin creating stem cell lines for himself and other academic researchers from discarded embryos provided by a large Boston fertility clinic, an arrangement that dramatically could enhance the supply of cells available for study.

But research on these cells could not be conducted using federal money, as these cell lines would be established subsequent to the 60 lines identified by the National Institutes of Health and allowed under President Bush's recent decision.

Embryonic stem cells are the "parent" cells from which the body's 200 or so tissues are formed. Researchers believe that stem cells could provide "replacement" cells for deficiencies that cause such debilitating conditions as Parkinson's disease, diabetes and spinal cord injuries.

The deal unusual in that most privately funded stem cell lines are created by companies for commercial purposes could serve as a catalyst for other private interests to support academic researchers who otherwise are largely dependent on federal grants. In addition, because these stem cell lines would be new, they could be more valuable to researchers than the existing lines, whose age and viability have not been disclosed.

The arrangement, first reported in Friday's Boston Globe, was not "a response to President Bush's thinking and decision," said Douglas Melton, chairman of Harvard's cell and molecular biology department.

"I wasn't confident that academic researchers could rely on companies to supply these cells," said Melton, who works for the Maryland-based private medical foundation while also serving on the Harvard faculty. "It seemed reasonable to have an independent, noncommercial source of embryonic stem cells."

Boston IVF, an organization of fertility clinics based in Waltham, Mass., will supply the embryos after donor couples consent for them to be destroyed, which occurs when stem cells are extracted from them. Melton said he intends to make the cells available free of charge to any researchers "for any legitimate research purposes, without restriction."

Some scientists have questioned NIH's estimate of 60 lines, as well as their viability.

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