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A new regulation in the US allows government researchers to study embryonic stem cells

 From the dead embryos, the scientists will give new life

Note: This news still originates from the Clinton era. In 2001, when Bush entered the White House, he vetoed this proposal, which is still valid today. 

By Nicholas Wade, New York Times
Yesterday, the US National Institutes of Health published regulations that will allow government-funded researchers to study human embryonic stem cells - that is, cells taken from the fetus in its earliest stages.

This is a stage where the embryo is essentially a hollow spherical mass consisting of a thousand cells. Inside the sphere is another layer, known as the inner cell mass, which contains the stem cells. These cells can form any body tissue - with the exception of the placenta - and for this reason the new regulations have been awaited for a long time. The scientists believe that the stem cells hold great promise for the treatment of many diseases, especially the degenerative diseases of old age.

Fertility clinics have been creating human embryos for some time by fertilizing eggs with sperm cells. The regulations would allow researchers to use cell cultures taken from frozen human embryos that clinics throw away - usually because their owners are no longer interested in them. Abortion opponents deny federal approval for this type of research because the embryos, which they see as living beings, are destroyed when the cell cultures are created.

In an attempt to avoid the abortion issue, the National Health Agency decided that only those who do not receive federal funding could legally remove the cells from embryos. Agency researchers themselves will not be allowed to use embryonic cells that were used in their institutes. A decision was welcomed by scientific organizations such as the "Federation of American Associations for Experimental Biology".

The initial draft of the regulations, published last December, was of course met with criticism from organizations opposed to abortion and even from the "National Advisory Commission for Bioethics". In their final form, the regulations became stricter, and in fact researchers wishing to obtain federal funding to work on human embryonic stem cells would have to win approval from four separate bodies – their university's internal review team, as well as three National Institutes of Health teams – before receiving their money. The regulations also include a number of measures designed to discourage any parties from donating embryos for profit or for the benefit of sick relatives.

On Tuesday, President Clinton expressed his positive position regarding the new regulations and said that "we cannot turn our backs on the potential to save lives, improve lives and help people - literally - get up, walk, and do all kinds of things we could never imagine." But the president added: "provided we meet strict ethical standards."

On the other hand, Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, the head of the Senate critics of the policies of the National Health Agency, said on Tuesday that the research in human embryonic stem cells is "illegal, immoral and unnecessary".

Brownback believes the research is illegal by virtue of a congressional ban on funding research that leads to the destruction of human embryos. In his opinion, the new regulations allow a type of research that seeks to benefit by taking human life, while research that would be based on the use of stem cells from adults could produce the same results.

Indeed, Brownback's argument is based on a finding according to which there is a type of stem cells found in the organs of adults from which different types of cells can be produced. It seems that in most organs there is a small pool of stem cells that create new and different cells, such as the stem cells of the bone marrow that daily renew the stock of red and white blood cells. It should be noted that the stem cells of adults are indeed more limited in terms of the repertoire of cells they can create, but now it seems that they still have the ability to go beyond the tissue around them.

Thus, for example, recent experiments have shown that the blood-forming stem cells can be "convinced" to produce muscle cells and even nerve cells. It may be possible to turn them into brain cells that secrete dopamine - the same substance whose concentration is depleted in Parkinson's patients.

At the same time it should be noted that embryonic stem cells are much more fertile than adult stem cells.
In conclusion, no one knows yet which type of stem cells - fetal or adult - will prove to be more suitable for clinical use, and the researchers want to try both.

The regulations issued yesterday also concern the issue of medical cloning. It refers to the procedure in which a new organ is created for a patient by taking a normal body cell from his body, and inserting it into a human egg from which the nucleus has been removed.
In the United States, it will be possible to perform medical cloning legally only by researchers in private bodies, but not by federally funded researchers. According to Dr. Lena Skirbol, who is responsible for outlining the scientific policy at the National Health Institutes, no private entity is known to have done this.

Dr. Skirball concluded by saying that the special review committee of the Federal Agency for Fetal Stem Cells will hold its first meeting next month, and that the first research grants will be awarded before the end of next year.
United Kingdom: Recommendation for the strain for medicinal purposes
Last week, a scientific committee recommended to the British government to allow researchers to begin medical cloning. This is a procedure in which a new organ is created for the patient in place of the original organ that was damaged.
This is done by taking a normal body cell from a patient, and inserting it into a human egg - from which the nucleus has been removed. In principle, the cell nucleus inserted into the egg can instruct it to grow into an organism. This is the process used to clone the Dolly sheep - when the nucleus is taken from a mature udder cell.

A human egg cell into which an adult cell nucleus has been inserted will likely develop into a viable embryo, but inserting it into a womb would be a criminal offense in the UK. Therefore, for cloning for medical purposes, the egg is grown instead of in the uterus in a glass container in the laboratory.
{Appeared in the Haaretz newspaper, 25/8/2000} - The Hidan website was until 2002 part of the IOL portal from the Haaretz group

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