Scientists Push On With Stem Cell Research

Despite limits on federal funding, researchers will pursue new lines

While many in the molecular biology community held their breath this summer for President Bush’s decision on federal funding for human embryonic stem cells, Harvard researchers in the field have been quietly pushing forward.

In a move that could make the University a leader in stem cell work, a Harvard scientist is set to receive funds from a private research institute to create new stem cell lines.

Cabot Professor of Natural Sciences Douglas A. Melton will lead a group at Harvard in extracting stem cells from embryos provided by Boston IVF, a local fertility clinic. The embryos would otherwise have been destroyed.

Funds for the work will be provided by the Maryland-based Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Melton is employed by the institute in addition to holding a Harvard faculty position.

Embryonic stem cells have the capability of developing into any tissue in the body, possibly providing a source of cells to treat diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. But scientists say that it will take them years to develop such treatments because so little is known about the cells.

The first embryonic stem cell lines were reported in 1998.

The planned work has received significant attention in the national press because President Bush announced Aug. 9 that he would not allow federal funds to be used for the creation of new human embryonic stem cell lines. He also forbid the use of tax money for research that involves cell lines derived after his Aug. 9 announcement.

The policy was an attempt by the administration to mollify voices on both sides of the debate. Many conservatives say that embryos are human life and it is wrong to profit from their death. Proponents of the research counter that embryos are not humans and that they would eventually be destroyed anyway.