Out With the Old, In With the New?

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Science  26 Jun 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5935, pp. 1617
DOI: 10.1126/science.1177267

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President Obama's recent announcement of a new policy for Federal Funding of stem cell research changes the landscape for this important area of biomedicine in the United States. His Executive Order and the subsequent draft guidelines of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) remove a major existing limitation on federal support for research using pluripotent human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). These stem cells can specialize into all body cell types. Thus, in principle they can be used to produce a wide range of tissues for therapeutic use. In addition, their study will very likely generate new insights into human early developmental mechanisms. The new Obama policy promises to speed research by making many new hESC lines eligible for federally funded studies. But the draft NIH guidelines accompanying the new policy need revision, because their donor consent rules for embryos used to generate hESCs would make some—and perhaps even all—of the previously approved hESCs ineligible for further federal funding. This would needlessly hinder progress in the stem cell field, and reasonable exceptions should be made to correct this unintended outcome.