The Obama administration has begun approving new lines of human embryonic stem cells that are eligible for federally funded experiments, opening the way for millions of taxpayer dollars to be used to conduct research that was put off-limits by President George W. Bush.
Launching a dramatic expansion of government support for one of the most promising but most contentious fields of biomedical research, the National Institutes of Health on Wednesday authorized the first 13 lines of cells under the administration's policy and was poised to approve 20 more Friday.
"This is the first down payment on what is going to be a much longer list that will empower the scientific community to explore the potential of embryonic stem cell research," said NIH Director Francis S. Collins. "Today's announcement is the first wave."
An additional 76 stem cell lines are awaiting vetting, and researchers have indicated that they plan to submit at least 254 more for approval.
The NIH has already authorized 31 grants worth about $21 million for research on human embryonic stem cells, money that was contingent on new lines passing government muster. The grants are for a variety of research, including work aimed at developing cells that could be used to treat diseases of the heart and nervous system.
Many other grant requests have been submitted by researchers hoping to use some of the $10 billion the NIH received as part of the economic stimulus, Collins said.
"We've been waiting with bated breath to get started," said George Daley, a stem cell researcher at Children's Hospital in Boston who created 11 of the lines approved Wednesday. "We could do today what we couldn't do yesterday."
Bush severely restricted federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research because of moral objections to the destruction of human embryos to obtain the cells. Federally funded scientists were limited to studying 21 existing cell lines that many criticized as flawed and inadequate; had to erect cumbersome bureaucratic procedures to separate government-funded research from privately funded work; and were sometimes prevented from sharing ideas.
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