In a major development, the United States has approved the first human embryonic stem cells for experiments by federally funded scientists.
Human embryonic stem cells are grown from a few hundred inner cells of a five-to-six-day old embryo. They are unspecialised cells that can grow into every type of body tissue. Because of their combined abilities of unlimited expansion, embryonic stem cells have remained a theoretically potential source for regenerative medicine and tissue replacement after injury or disease.
NIH Director Francis S Collins, announced the approval of the first 13 human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines on Wednesday for use by the research community under the new stem cell policy.
"In accordance with the guidelines, these stem cell lines were derived from embryos that were donated under ethically sound informed consent processes. More lines are under review now, and we anticipate continuing to expand this list of responsibly derived lines eligible for NIH funding," Dr Collins said.
The Washington Post reported that the Obama administration's move was hailed by supporters of the research as a long-awaited watershed that would finally allow scientists to start using millions of dollars in American taxpayer's money to study hundreds of lines of cells that had been put off-limits by President Obama's predecessor, George W Bush, on moral grounds.
Children's Hospital Boston developed 11 of the approved lines and Rockefeller University in New York City developed two of the approved lines. An additional 96 lines have been submitted to NIH for either internal administrative review or consideration by the external Working Group for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Eligibility Review and the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD), including more than 20 that will be considered by the ACD on December 4, 2009.
Research using hESCs is already yielding information about the complex events that occur during human development. Researchers hope that eventually cells differentiated from hESCs may be used to treat a myriad of diseases, conditions, and disabilities and to test the safety of new drugs in the laboratory.