FEDERAL report supports stem cell study on all fronts

Wednesday, July 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Supporters of research using embryonic stem cells are pointing to two new endorsements as they urge President Bush to allow federal funds for the work.

A federal health research report released Wednesday said scientists should be free to pursue all avenues of research, including that involving human embryos.

Also, Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., the only physician in the Senate and a close Bush ally, announced his support for federal funding of the practice.

``I conclude that embryonic and adult stem cell research should be federally funded within a carefully regulated, fully transparent framework,'' Frist said. Noting his opposition to abortion, Frist said he felt compelled to support research that could save lives.

``I strongly believe that we have measured the question carefully, and that it is time to move on,'' said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, whose Senate panel oversees federal health spending and held the hearing where the report and Frist's opinion were made public.

The 200-plus page scientific report from the National Institutes of Health does not make a specific recommendation, one way or the other, on federal funding but endorses research using embryonic stem sells.

``The NIH report is clear on this important point: Embryonic and adult stem cells are different and both present immense research opportunities for potential therapies,'' Harkin said at the hearing.

Harkin added he will push for legislation allowing the stem cell funding if Bush doesn't approve it.

``During the next several years, it will be important to compare embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells in terms of their ability to proliferate, differentiate, survive and function after transplant, and avoid immune rejection,'' said the report.

Bush is weighing whether to allow federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, which is opposed by some because isolating the cells requires the death of a human embryo.

Scientists believe they can learn to direct the development of embryonic stem cells to grow mature cells or tissues that could be used to treat disease. Some estimate that stem cells could benefit more than 100 million patients with such disorders as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, diabetes and spinal cord injuries.

Opponents of the research believe embryos should not be killed, even for the treatment of disease. Instead, they favor research using the adult stem cells, which are taken from mature organs and then manipulated in the lab.

The federal researchers said embryonic stem cells can develop into all types of cells and tissue, a flexibility that may be lacking in so-called ``adult'' stem cells taken from mature tissue. However, the report concludes, ``the answers clearly lie in conducting more research.''

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle called Frist's support of the research ``very encouraging,'' adding that the senator ``carries great weight and has a great deal of respect'' because of his medical expertise. Frist's statement ``is an indication that support lies on both sides of the aisle.''

A key abortion opponent, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also supported federal funding for stem cell research. But he added that he is troubled that some companies would create embryos in order to conduct this research.

``This type of research is indicative of the problems we will continue to encounter if we don't allow federal funding with strict guidelines for embryonic stem cell research,'' Hatch said.