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NIH publishes draft guidelines for stem cell research


December 1, 1999
Web posted at: 3:47 p.m. EST (2047 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has developed a set of draft guidelines for research involving human stem cells. The guidelines are an effort to ensure that NIH-funded stem cell research is conducted in an ethical and legal manner.

The drafted guidelines set specific criteria for research and call for establishment of a "Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Review Group," which would document and monitor compliance. The guidelines also specify areas of research that do not qualify for NIH funding, such as cloning of animals and humans.

An NIH working group considered comments from a public hearing on April 8, as well as recommendations from the president's National Bioethics Advisory Commission and Congress, when developing the guidelines.

Last year researchers in the private sector culled stem cells from donated embryos that had been produced for in-vitro fertilization. Culling the stem cells requires destroying the embryo. Researchers then multiplied the cells in a laboratory.

Federal law currently prohibits taxpayer-funded human embryo research. The NIH has contended that despite the federal ban, it is legal for federally funded researchers to use those lab-grown stem cells because the scientists never touched the original embryos.

Federally funded scientists can also derive stem cells, after informed consent, from aborted fetuses, but this practice is not without controversy.

Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, which means that unlike mature cells, they have the capacity to differentiate into the various types of cells that form the human body, like skin, blood vessels, nerves and liver. As a result, they have caused a great deal of excitement in the scientific community.

Doctors hope to use this research one day to give people new cells to replace diseased or damaged ones. They hope they can cure Alzheimer's disease and cancer and repair injuries to the spinal cord, even offer an unlimited bank of transplantable organs.

Researchers also hope that stem cell research will provide them with more information about human development and the causes of disease, and lead to changes in the development and testing of drugs.

The draft guidelines will be published Thursday in the Federal Register and will be open for public comment for 60 days, after which the working group that developed them will reconvene.

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National Institutes of Health (NIH)
National Bioethics Advisory Commission
American Life League
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