ASH Supports Both Adult and Embryonic Stem Cell Research
As an organization of physicians who care for desperately ill patients and scientists who try to understand the basic mechanisms of disease and discover new therapies, the American Society of Hematology is excited about the scientific potential of stem cell research. "Adult" blood stem cells can be obtained from the blood and bone marrow of adults or the umbilical cord of newborn infants. Research on these cells has led to life-saving treatment with bone marrow transplantation for certain kinds of leukemias and other malignancies as well as bone marrow failure disorders such as aplastic anemia and disabling and lethal hereditary disorders such as Thalassemia.
Embryonic stem cells, or "pluripotent" human stem cells, have been successfully derived by privately funded researchers from extra embryos created for in vitro fertilization. These stem cells are the fundamental building blocks of all other cells in the human body and may be able to develop into blood cells, liver, pancreas, skin, muscle, bone, nerve and other tissue types. Research into the transplantability and differentiation of embryonic stem cells has the potential to lead to important therapies for a large number of intractable diseases.
ASH supports federal funding of both adult and embryonic stem cell research under strict guidelines and with appropriate public oversight. At this time, there is insufficient evidence to determine that one avenue of research is as promising or more hopeful than the other. ASH's policy is to support both avenues while working to help build the necessary consensus among scientists, Members of Congress, and the public in order to advance the health and well being of Americans through scientific and medical progress.
ASH Supports the Bush Administration's Decision to Fund Embryonic Stem Cell Research
ASH is pleased that the Bush Administration decided in August 2001 to support federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research after a deliberative and reflective process that carefully considered the seriousness of ethical concerns and the potential therapeutic value of embryonic stem cell research. However, there are several key matters to be addressed as this new policy is implemented.
The new policy restricts research funding to approximately 78 human embryonic stem cell lines. ASH looks to the President to consider expanding such lines if and when necessary, so scientific advancement is not limited. ASH also questions the genetic diversity of these embryonic stem cell lines-an important consideration in determining their value in research-and their availability to publicly funded research scientists at NIH, academic health centers, and research institutes throughout the nation.
ASH Supports Continued Investigation of SCNT
ASH supports efforts to prohibit the cloning of a human being, but urges cautious and educated debate with regard to current proposals to ban all forms of human cloning. For example, so-called "therapeutic cloning" is a technique that is more accurately referred to as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Such techniques are critical tools for scientists to fully develop the future promise of both adult and embryonic stem cell research. ASH opposes an outright ban on all such experiments.
It is unfortunate that SCNT techniques used to understand the basic mechanisms of disease and study the repair of diseased and damaged tissues is commonly referred to as "therapeutic cloning." Because of this terminology, much of the public can barely distinguish SCNT from the reproductive cloning of a human being. ASH's policy is to support all areas of medical research with appropriate public oversight, while ensuring that all stakeholders remain involved in this important debate.