WASHINGTON — Proposed guidelines for embryonic stem cell research would prohibit federal funding for work on stem cells taken from cloned embryos or from embryos that were created expressly for research.
Instead, draft guidelines released Friday by the National Institutes of Health would permit federal funding for research on cells derived from human embryos that were created solely for reproduction, that no longer are needed and that have been donated.
Dr. Raynard S. Kington, the acting NIH director, said the guidelines should allow federal funding for research on hundreds of existing embryonic stem cell lines, many of which have been engineered to include genetic mutations that would allow scientists to more closely study the progression of common diseases, such as cancer.
"We believe that many more doors will be open with these guidelines that will ... speed the time we get to the point when we have interventions that can actually be used to improve the human condition," Kington told reporters Friday afternoon. "This is an important day for science."
Because embryonic stem cells potentially can become any cell in the body, researchers believe they hold great promise for treatments for a wide range of degenerative ailments, from Parkinson's to diabetes to spinal cord injuries.
Currently, taxpayer money may be used for research on only about 20 stem cell lines created before President George W. Bush put limits on the funding in August 2001. Because the embryo is destroyed when the stem cells are harvested, critics consider it tantamount to abortion.
Last month, President Barack Obama lifted Bush's restrictions and ordered the NIH to produce guidelines to advance ethically and scientifically responsible embryonic stem cell research. Federal law still prohibits using federal funds to destroy embryos.
The NIH plans to publish the proposed rules in the Federal Register next week. Scientists and the public would then have 30 days to comment on them.
Kington said the agency plans to have final guidelines in place by early July and hopes to begin issuing grants shortly afterward. The guidelines closely follow a stem cell research bill that twice passed Congress, and that Bush twice vetoed.
Kington said the agency is "moving as quickly as possible to implement the executive order."
Wes Allison can be reached at [email protected] or (202) 463-0577.