WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New stem cell guidelines released on Friday by the U.S. National Institutes of Health would limit federal funding of the research to embryos left over at fertility clinics and prohibit federal funding of embryos made by cloning or certain other methods.
The guidelines, posted online here, are open for public comment and will be made final in July.
They include strict rules on making sure that people who donate unused embryos for research know what they are doing, and why, and are not coerced or paid in any way.
They reverse long-standing limits placed on funding the research by former president George W. Bush, which scientists had said restricted potentially lifesaving medical research.
“We are likely to increase greatly the number of human embryonic stem cells available for federal funding,” acting NIH director Dr. Raynard Kington told a telephone briefing.
“This is a remarkable development that promises to speed the research that one day may fundamentally change the way we do (medical) research,” he added.
Kington made it clear that NIH researchers strongly backed President Barack Obama’s decision last month to rescind the restrictions.
“This is a new day in many ways. We are grateful for the presidential executive order,” Kington said.
Alan Leshner, executive publisher of Science, said in a statement, “Some groups and scientists have wanted the administration to go further, but we are happy to have this progress after such a long period of limited opportunities to pursue this very important line of research.”
Not everyone was completely happy.
Dr. George Daley, a stem cell researcher at Harvard University, said he was worried the guidelines on informed consent might be so strict that some stem cells that can be used under the Bush restrictions might now be excluded.
“If you are only allowed to use new lines that were only derived in the last year, you lose the value of the last 10 years of research,” Daley said in a telephone interview.
And opponents of human embryonic stem cell research said they believe the federal government and Congress are concealing their true intent.
“This seeming restraint is part of an incremental strategy intended to desensitize the public to the concept of killing human embryos for research purposes,” the National Right to Life Committee said in a statement.
U.S. Representatives Diana DeGette, a Democrat, and Michael Castle, a Republican, said they would introduce legislation broadening the guidelines further. “I believe there is opportunity for more expansive guidelines,” Castle said.
The proposed guidelines restrict funding of work on cells made using certain methods, such as creating stem cells from a human egg only, a process called parthenogenesis, and a cloning technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer.
They also prohibit funding of work on embryos created specifically for research, with the aim of keeping the money going toward cells from fertility clinic embryos that parents donated after deciding not to use them for a pregnancy.
The guidelines would not affect what scientists do using private funds or even state funds.
U.S. legislation called the Dickey Amendment forbids the use of federal funds for the creation or destruction of human embryos for research. The NIH guidelines affect labs that use cells that someone else would have created.
Editing by Mohammad Zargham