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Science Academy Creating Panel to Monitor Stem-Cell Research

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  • Science Academy Creating Panel to Monitor Stem-Cell Research

    February 16, 2006

    Science Academy Creating Panel to Monitor Stem-Cell Research

    To fill a void in federal supervision, the National Academy of Sciences is setting up a committee to provide informal oversight over research with human embryonic stem cells.

    Contentious issues in biological research are usually handled by the National Institutes of Health, the government agency that finances most biomedical research. Because of the Bush administration's reservations about embryonic stem cell research, which it has allowed to proceed but only with cell lines established before Aug. 9, 2001, the N.I.H. has been unable to specify what kinds of research are ethically acceptable. With their patron agency sidelined, researchers have looked to the academy to provide guidance.

    Unlike many of the academy's committees, which are financed by the government, the new committee will be paid for by private sponsors, like the Ellison Medical Foundation.

    "Our very strong feeling was that some sort of oversight was vastly preferable to the vacuum we have now," said Richard L. Sprott, executive director of the foundation. Dr. Sprott said he hoped the academy's committee would "fill the gap in federal oversight and make sure the private sector does not call all the shots."

    No researchers using human embryonic stem cells will be eligible to serve on the panel, a restriction that led some scientists to express concern that the academy was succumbing to political pressure. ...

    Because of recent reports of White House pressure on government scientists to toe the administration's line, the exclusion "kind of stood out," he said, "but only because we are now looking for those things."

    Last April, the academy issued voluntary guidelines on research with human embryonic stem cells, recommending that universities set up local panels for their scientists to consult. The new committee is intended to be a standing body that will update the guidelines in the light of new scientific findings and resolve issues too difficult for the local groups.