Science  02 Jul 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5424, pp. 21
  1. Ethically Acceptable?

    A presidential ethics panel is ready to endorse a tolerant federal policy on the use of human cells extracted from an embryo or aborted fetus. This week, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) tentatively approved a draft report urging the government to permit both the use of embryonic stem cells and a controversial harvesting technique.

    Stem cells are prized because they could be coaxed to develop into almost any body tissue. But Congress has banned federal funding of embryo-harming research due to moral concerns, though the National Institutes of Health interprets the law to mean that grantees may use stem cells from fetuses, or if someone else extracts them from embryos.

    NBAC's draft says it should be “ethically acceptable” to use such cells, and to cultivate them from unused “embryos remaining after infertility treatments.” Whether Congress will go along with that advice, however, isn't clear.

  2. Property Rights Play

    Responding to concerns that it's slowing the flow of discoveries to market, the Japanese government may surrender claims to inventions produced by publicly funded research. Proponents hope rules similar to the 1980 U.S. Bayh-Dole law—which surrendered government rights to taxpayer-supported work—will energize Japan's computer and biotech industries.

    Japan already gives academic researchers rights to work done under standard grant schemes. But the government still holds varying claims to discoveries made under some major R&D programs, including those run by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). Those rights “should be given to the private sector,” says Osamu Chisaki, executive director of the Japan Bioindustry Association, which last week pushed the government to relinquish all rights.

    MITI officials like the idea and say they will deliver to the Diet a bill seeking to amend relevant laws. But they are still deciding how far it will go.

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