Former President George W. Bush walked a fine line between science and morality/ethics when he decided that existing embryonic stem cell lines, at the time, would be the only ones available for Federal grants.  Federal money would not be available to any new lines.

Contrary to some misinformed, partisan critics, he did not ban embryonic stem cell research.  Companies using private money were not restricted in any way.   Bush simply said that Federal money would be given out in what he believed was as moral and ethical a way as could be done at the time. 

The LA Times reported this week that a Stanford University study was done to determine the extent of this restriction.  The results show that the loudly-complaining scientists have put even tighter restrictions on themselves, making their protests disingenuous.

First of all the headline and its subhead are a bit misleading:

Study confirms limits on stem cell research

Only a handful of available embryonic stem cell lines have been used by scientists, an analysis finds, attributing the figures in part to Bush-era policies.

First of all, no, there has been no limit by Bush-era policies to stem cell research.  Anybody can research anything, as long as someone other than the taxpayer puts up the money.  It’s being done. 

Second of all, as the very first paragraph notes, the scientists themselves are as much to blame for the results as Bush is.

Scientists have long complained that the Bush administration’s stem cell funding policy restricted their research to only a handful of human embryonic stem cell lines. A study published Friday in Nature Biotechnology confirms that the majority of lab experiments over the last decade has indeed focused on two or three cell lines — the result of choices made by both President George W. Bush and the scientists themselves.

Emphasis mine.  A couple paragraphs down, we find out the extent of the restrictions.

Though the Bush administration said the bank maintained 21 cell lines eligible for funding from the National Institutes of Health, three of those lines have never been available to researchers, and a fourth line just became usable this year, the researchers said.

Of the remaining 17 cell lines, more than three-quarters of all requests from scientists involved just two. The H1 line accounted for 39% of the orders, and the H9 line made up an additional 38%, according to records from the stem cell bank. The only other line that has been requested more than 100 times is H7. Nine of the lines haven’t even made it into the double digits. It’s not clear if only those three lines were easy to work with, or if they were favored for other reasons.

Again, emphasis mine.  The article does mention that Harvard Stem Cell Institute also has lines that would not get federal funding for experimentation, and that their requests were more diverse.  The study does not answer this discrepancy, but the paragraph beginning…

The researchers speculated…

…attempts an explanation.  However, when researchers start speculating, they’re beyond their parameters.  This includes their conclusion.

"The lasting legacy of Bush-era policies," the researchers concluded, is a human embryonic stem cell field "that relies very heavily on a small number of well-used but less than ideal cell lines."

Bush-era policies didn’t force these scientists to use just 12% of the lines available to them.  This self-imposed restriction, moreso than some government policy, is responsible for the situation they find themselves in.

Filed under: PoliticsScienceStem Cells

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