The federal policy governing NIH's funding of human embryonic stem cell research is impeding the momentum of science in this area, said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni at a congressional hearing on the agency's fiscal 2008 budget. Zerhouni's remarks in support of expanding the federal policy are in sharp contrast to the Administration's position that the current policy is sufficient.
The policy, set in 2001, limits the number of embryonic stem cell lines that are eligible for federal funding. Congress tried to broaden this policy last year, only to have the legislation vetoed (C&EN, July 24, 2006, page 10). A similar bill (H.R. 3) introduced this year has cleared the House and is expected to face a Senate vote this spring. The White House, however, has again promised to veto the bill.
At the March 19 hearing, Zerhouni acknowledged that the federal policy served NIH and the research community well initially, but as science has advanced, it's become clear that the eligible cell lines aren't "going to cut it."
"From my standpoint, it is clear today that American science will be better served, and the nation will be better served, if we allow our scientists access to more cell lines," Zerhouni said. "It's time for policymakers to find common ground" and for our country to move forward on all fronts of stem cell research, using all cell lines from embryonic to adult, he added.