"The NIH has met or spoken extensively with each of the investigators who have derived these cells," the NIH said in an announcement revealing the 10 international companies and research labs that had produced the colonies. "These scientists are very interested in working with the NIH and the research community."
Scientists who developed the cell lines, or self-replenishing colonies, reported that some have been tested in lab mice and show that they are able to transform into other types of cells.
It was the next step in a process begun Aug. 9 when President Bush announced he would allow federal funds for research using human embryonic stem cells.
That decision came despite strong opposition from some religious groups and some members of Congress. Creating embryonic stem cells requires the death of a human embryo; many consider that tantamount to homicide.
Bush chose to permit federal funds for research on stem cell lines established before Aug. 9 because those embryos already were dead. He barred federal dollars for research on embryonic stem cell lines established in the future.
He also limited the funds to cell lines derived from embryos that were surplus at fertility clinics. Those embryos also had to be an uncompensated research gift from their fully informed parents.
Still, some scientists were skeptical. Last week, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, one of the world's largest federation of scientists, challenged NIH to identify the cell lines.
And that was what happened Monday.
Because stem cells can in theory reproduce infinitely, the fact that there are 64 sources drew guarded praise from the association representing U.S. medical schools.
Dr DaviKorn, of the Association of American Medical Colleges, said, "I hope that our best and brightest people jump into this." But, Korn added, "Nobody knows if this is sufficient or not. Nobody."
Kevin Wilson, director of public policy at the American Society for Cell Biology, said many researchers believe "there is a question about the quality of the cell lines and if they are of sufficient genetic diversity for scientists to do the work that needs to be done."
Scientists are also concerned that of the 10 institutions controlling the 64 lines, six are overseas and two of those based in the U.S. are private companies. The concern is that the list in effect grants monopoly rights to private companies who will benefit from federally funded discoveries.
If you have a limited number of providers, they are able to dictate more stringent terms and conditions than if there were a large community of providers.
Officials at Georgia-based BresaGen, one private company on the list, said they hope to supply cell lines to hundreds of researchers on easy terms.
"It has always been our belief that we would like to distribute our lines quite widely," said Dr John Smeaton, BresaGen, "and to get a very broad spectrum of the scientific community involved in what we are doing."
Embryonic stem cells are the precursors to all the 200 or so cell types in the body. Researchers hope to be able to direct this transformation to make cells that could be used to treat diabetes, Parkinson's, heart diseases or other disorders.
Below are the 10 organizations eligible for funding:
BresaGen Inc., Athens, Ga.
CyThera Inc., San Diego
Goteborg University, Goteborg, Sweden
Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden
Monash University, Australia
National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, India
Reliance Life Sciences, Mumbai, India
Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel
University of California, San Francisco
Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, Madison, Wis.
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