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SNAP ANALYSIS: Stem cell rules mean big change up to Congress
July 6, 2009 / 10:21 PM / in 8 years

SNAP ANALYSIS: Stem cell rules mean big change up to Congress

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Final stem cell rules issued by the U.S. National Institutes of Health on Monday limit research to areas generally agreed upon by Congress in recent years, suggesting lawmakers must legislate any big changes in U.S. policy.

Here is a look at what the rules say and what they might mean for future research:

* The new rules resemble draft regulations issued in April that restrict human embryonic stem cell research to cells taken from embryos donated by couples trying to conceive at fertility clinics.

* Cells made using cloning technology or a process called parthenogenesis, using an egg only, are not eligible for federal funding, although researchers using private or state funds may do as they please.

* The NIH made some changes to ethical requirements for “informed consent” -- a process under which people who take part in scientific or medical research are told what the research means for them and in this case what might be done with the donated embryos.

* Opponents of human embryo research say the rules are just a first step down the road of changes that will eventually allow much broader research, perhaps even involving cloning technology.

* Members of Congress who strongly support embryonic stem cell research say they plan to introduce legislation that would broaden areas eligible for funding.

* Congress tried several times to pass stem cell legislation under former President George W. Bush but he vetoed every attempt. Within his first three months in office, President Barack Obama reversed most of Bush’s restrictions on the research.

* The NIH rules also meet the limitations of the so-called Dickey-Wicker amendment, a rider added to every budget that forbids the use of federal funds for the destruction of human embryos.

* The new rules make clear they were written to match the consensus reached in Congress among liberals, moderates and social conservatives, who agreed it was a waste to discard excess embryos from fertility clinics and that they should be used for embryonic stem cell research.

* But many still feel uncomfortable with moving further to fund research using embryos specifically made for the purpose, and the new NIH rules make clear the agency will wait for a mandate from Congress before moving any further.

* Companies work with a range of stem cells and more than one aims to make stem cells using cloning technology. The new rules mean they have to fund their own work, look to states such as California that will pay for scientists to do it or work with institutes such as one established at Harvard University to work outside the federal grant program.

Editing by John O'Callaghan

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