News of the WeekEmbryology

Use of Stem Cells Still Legally Murky, But Hearing Offers Hope

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Science  11 Dec 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5396, pp. 1962-1963
DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5396.1962

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Some biologists had hoped that a 2 December hearing on the ethics of research on human stem cells--cells capable of developing into any tissue type--would clarify whether these cells can be used in federally funded research, but they were disappointed. The key question is whether a 3-year-old congressional ban on funding research in which an embryo is "destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to the risk of injury or death" applies to research using the new stem cells because they were derived from embryos. National Institutes of Health director Harold Varmus testified that the Administration is still studying the legal issues, and although some members of the panel holding the hearing said that they want to encourage this research, Congress is likely to move slowly in reviewing whether the law needs to be changed.