NIH To Open Nationally Funded Stem Cell Bank

Author:  Pia Banerjee
Institution:  MIT
Date:  September 2004

In a letter to Congress, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced plans to spend $18 million to open a nationally funded stem cell bank. Currently, stem cells are grown in separate locations, often in a variety of conditions and environments that may hinder growth. The NIH hopes that the central center will reduce shipping costs of the stem cells.

The national stem cell bank will be used to develop and grow the few embryonic stem cell lines allowed by the Bush administration. Some scientists are critical of the stem bank plan, saying that it is purely a political move that will not accelerate the use of stem cells in treating diseases.

"Not one patient in America should believe that today's announcement in any way expands access to more cell lines, which is what we really need to deliver on the promise of embryonic stem cells," states U.S. Representative Mike Castle.

Embryonic stem cells are early cells that eventually can turn into any other cell in the body. Scientists think that embryonic stem cells will be a promising treatment to replace tissues, such as those in spinal cord injuries or transplants. However, on August 9, 2001, President George W. Bush prohibited federal funding for embryonic stem cell lines created after that date. The restriction was prompted by religious leaders’ reaction to embryonic stem cell research, since most stem cells are often derived after killing embryos.

Without the new stem cell lines restricted by the Bush administration, many feel that a national stem cell bank may be ineffective. Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry has stated numerous times that, if elected president, he plans to remove the ban set on stem cell research. The national stem cell bank would then be open to growing hundreds of new stem cell lines, potentially contributing to treatments for numerous diseases.