WASHINGTON Feb 19 The U.S. government
broadened the definition of a human embryonic stem cell on
Friday, helping qualify several corporate and academic
experiments for federal funding.
Dr. Lana Skirboll, director of the Office of Science Policy
of the National Institutes of Health, called the change
technical and said it would be posted in the federal register
Human embryonic stem cells are the body's master cells,
taken from very early stage embryos when they are just a ball
The current definition describes them as cells taken from
the inner layer of a blastocyst -- a days-old hollow ball of
cells. Skirboll said the new definition will include earlier
"We are making what I think is a relatively small technical
change to the definition of human embryonic stem cells,"
Skirboll said in a telephone interview.
"This changes none of the ethical requirements in the
U.S. President Barack Obama lifted some restrictions on the
federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research soon
after he took office last year but the NIH imposed strict
ethical requirements and a review process for funding.
Dr. Robert Lanza of Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell
Technology, one of the companies seeking federal funding for
its research, said the decision was important.
His company is working with cells taken from embryos when
they only have eight cells, with the aim of making it possible
to implant the remaining seven-celled embryo into a woman to
develop into a fetus.
"It would have been a disaster to exclude these valuable
human embryonic stem cell lines from consideration for federal
funding, especially since the leftover embryos used to generate
them meet all the NIH requirements," Lanza said by e-mail.
"In fact, it could be strongly argued that these human
embryonic stem cell lines are more ethical since they can be
derived without embryo destruction."
Opponents of human embryonic stem cell research believe it
is wrong to destroy a human embryo for any reason and some
oppose any research at all involving human embryos.
(Editing by Alan Elsner)