Congressional delegation finds US lagging on stem cell research

Monday, 05 June, 2006

The Congressional delegation announced during a fact-finding trip to the UK, that the United States is lagging behind other leading nations on stem cell research.

The delegation from the United States Congress is nearing the end of a visit to the UK to find out more about stem cell research, ahead of a possible vote in the US Senate on the expansion of federal funding for studies on stem cells derived from human embryos.

The delegation includes Congresswoman Diana DeGette (Democrat, Colorado), Congressman Michael Castle (Republican, Delaware) and Congressman Jim Langevin (Democrat, Rhode Island), together with staff from the offices of Senator Bill Frist (Republican, Tennessee), Senator Edward Kennedy (Democrat, Massachusetts), Senator Arlen Specter (Republican, Pennsylvania), and Senator Tom Harkin (Democrat, Iowa). They have been holding meetings with UK Parliamentarians, Government officials, regulatory agencies and research scientists about recent advancements in research on human embryonic stem cells, and associated ethical and regulatory issues.

The visit is taking place just over a year after the US House of Representatives passed Bill HR 810, authored by Congresswoman DeGette and Congressman Castle, for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which would expand federal funding for research on human embryonic stem cells.

At present, federal funding is restricted to just 22 cell lines derived from human embryos before 9 August 2001. The Bill has now been introduced into the Senate, but has yet to be voted upon.

Congresswoman DeGette said: "I hope that the Senate will vote on this Bill within the next few weeks, and that the President will not issue his first veto on a Bill that could help millions of Americans."

Congressman Castle said: "We have already seen researchers move to countries like the United Kingdom, which have more supportive policies. In addition, leadership in this area of research has shifted to the United Kingdom, which sees this scientific area as a cornerstone of its biotech industry."

The Congressional delegation met with Sir Richard Gardner, who has chaired major studies by the Royal Society, the UK national academy of science, into stem cell research. In a statement released to coincide with the delegation's visit, Sir Richard outlined the potential benefits to researchers and patients in the UK from any future expansion in US federal funding for research on human embryonic stem cells.

Sir Richard said: "More federally-funded research on human embryonic stem cells in the United States would increase the number of researchers who are active in this important field and thus hasten progress towards new therapies.

"We should not be misled into supposing that US restrictions on research into human embryonic stem cells is good news for UK researchers because it makes us look more internationally competitive. UK research is slower because US colleagues lack vital federal support to aid development of therapies based on research on human embryonic stem cells."

Sir Richard added: "UK patients suffering from diseases and injuries that could potentially be treated with stem cell therapies could benefit from treatments that are based on research carried out anywhere in the world and are best served if progress is based on a concerted international effort. Therefore, a change in the United States to allow more federally-funded research on human embryonic stem cells would be good news for both UK researchers and patients."

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