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Government Concentrates

March 8, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 10


Stem cell lines fall short

Scientists have access to only a few of the 78 embryonic stem cell lines that are allowed to be studied using federal funds, according to an assessment done by James F. Battey Jr., chairman of the NIH Stem Cell Task Force. Battey tells C&EN that of the approved cell lines, one has been withdrawn, seven were found to be duplicates, 16 are not viable, and 31 are held by institutions outside the U.S. that do not have NIH funding. This leaves a best-case scenario of 23 potential stem cell lines, with 15 currently viable and eight in development. Although Battey says this information was taken from data posted on a publicly accessible website and is nothing new, it has stirred up lots of interest, including some from members of Congress. In a letter to the President, Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.) wrote: "The Administration should release all information about the number of viable stem cell lines available to researchers and should turn to the nonpartisan and impartial National Academy of Sciences for expert advice." But Battey believes the focus shouldn't simply be on the number of cell lines, but rather on the excitement over the scientific possibilities of human embryonic stem cells, which appear to have unlimited renewal abilities and can be coaxed into becoming any adult cell type.

Panel will review WTC cleanup

An expert technical review panel will examine concerns about health effects related to air pollution from the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Formation of the group was announced on March 1 by EPA and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), and it will meet for the first time on March 31. The panel will review results of sampling in cleaned-up residential areas near WTC to verify that indoor air has not become recontaminated through heating and air-conditioning systems. The group will also review a study concluding that the indoor cleaning methods EPA used and recommended to residents who cleaned their own homes were extremely effective. J. Paul Gilman, EPA science adviser and head of the agency's Office of Research & Development, will chair the panel, which includes members from federal and New York City health and environmental agencies. More information on the panel is available at

DOE lab, Arab group to study Iraq's R&D needs

Iraq's critical science infrastructure needs will be examined and aided through a plan announced last week by Sandia National Laboratories' Cooperative Monitoring Center and the Arab Science & Technology Foundation. The foundation has been surveying Iraq's scientific infrastructure since January with the goal of documenting the country's needs and expertise in critical science areas, according to a statement by Sandia, a Department of Energy national lab. The foundation, a nongovernment scientific organization headquartered in the United Arab Emirates, plans to complete the survey this month and brief Washington officials on its results. The lab and foundation then intend to organize an international workshop to gain support and funding for high-priority science projects to help Iraq rebuild and develop its science base.

Physical society criticizes Bush hydrogen plan

The American Physical Society (APS) last week issued a report that was critical of the Bush Administration's "hydrogen initiative" and urged several fundamental changes. The report doubts the Administration can reach its target of having a hydrogen-powered vehicle commercially available by 2020 to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil. It says hydrogen engine technologies require up to 100-fold improvements in cost and performance to be competitive and that no material exists to construct a hydrogen fuel tank that can meet consumer requirements. Although 9 million tons of hydrogen is produced annually, the report says current production methods are four times more expensive than gasoline. The physicists urge creation of new research centers to work on these problems and say that, meanwhile, the government should develop and encourage public use of energy-efficient "bridge" technologies while hydrogen science advances. With this report, APS joins the National Research Council and other scientific organizations that have urged modifications in the President's billion-dollar plan to develop hydrogen as a vehicle fuel.


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