NEWS OF THE WEEK
SCIENCE POLICY
September 3, 2001
Volume 79, Number 36
CENEAR 79 36 p. 11
ISSN 0009-2347
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STEM CELL LINE COUNTS QUESTIONED
But scientists say U.S. basic research effort can now move forward

WILLIAM SCHULZ

NIH has released a list of companies, laboratories, and organizations that, it says, hold a total of 64 human embryonic stem cell lines that might be available to federally funded researchers. However, many scientists immediately questioned the accuracy of the NIH number.

"We've got an awful lot to learn about them," says George Q. Daley, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard University and a fellow at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, Mass. "Only a handful of the NIH-reported stem cell lines are well characterized," he adds.

But, "if only half of the NIH-reported cell lines are available, we are . . . a lot better off than we were a year ago," says Nobel Laureate Paul Berg, an emeritus professor of biochemistry at Stanford University. He points out that before President George W. Bush's Aug. 9 decision, federal funding for embryonic stem cell research was banned altogether (C&EN, Aug. 20, page 34).

Now, Berg continues, necessary basic research on embryonic stem cells can move forward. To critics of the President's decision, he says, "I don't see the point of going to war."

The full NIH registry of human embryonic stem cells can be viewed at http://www.nih.gov. Agency officials say the majority of the cell lines identified "were reported to express all of the markers known to be associated with human embryonic stem cells."

For now, the NIH registry contains basic information: the name of the company or laboratory holding the cells, contact information, and an assurance that the cells meet the criteria spelled out by Bush. Additional information about the cell lines may be included in the future, NIH says.

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