For the Record: NIH Approves New Embryonic Stem Cell Lines for Federal Funding


Remember when President George W. Bush limited federal funding of new embryonic stem cell lines back when the 21st century was yet young? In part President Bush imposed his limitations because, as he explained:

I also believe human life is a sacred gift from our Creator.  I worry about a culture that devalues life, and believe as your President I have an important obligation to foster and encourage respect for life in America and throughout the world.  And while we're all hopeful about the potential of this research, no one can be certain that the science will live up to the hope it has generated.

Alas, embryonic stem cells have not lived up to the hope they generated. And let's not forget the halcyon days when the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives passed the Human Cloning Prohbition Act that would have outlawed even private research and treatments using cloned embryonic stem cells. Again, this hope for creating perfect transplant cells and tissues has also proved vain since no cloned human embryos have ever been produced.

Now for the record, President Barack Obama has tossed out his predecessor's executive order and the National Institutes of Health are funding research using new stem cell lines. From the Washington Post:

The National Institutes of Health authorized 11 lines of cells produced by scientists at the Children's Hospital in Boston and two lines created by researchers at the Rockefeller University in New York. All were obtained from embryos left over by couples seeking treatment for infertility….

Another 96 lines are awaiting vetting, including 20 lines will be considered by the advisory committee on Friday, and researchers have indicated at least 254 more will be submitted for approval, Collins said.

The NIH has already authorized 31 grants for about $21 million for research on human embryonic stem cells that were contingent on new lines passing government muster. Wednesday's approval will allow those scientists to decide whether to begin using the funding for those lines or await the approval of other, more appropriate cells. The grants are for a variety of research, including work aimed at developing cells that could be used to treat heart and nervous system diseases.

My selfish question: When will the FDA get around to approving clinical trials using stem cells developed using private research funds?

Disclosure: Why selfish? I own several hundred shares of the biotech company Geron which I purchased with my own money. So far I've only lost money.


NEXT: Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on Climategate and Obama's Radio Silence

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. This is something George W. Bush actually got right, even if it was for the wrong reason. The federal government shouldn’t be funding research in any area, stem cells included. It simply has no authority to do so.

    1. What about military research then Mr Constitutional Law Expert?

      1. Define “military research.”

        1. High energy physics, military medicine, materials science and metallurgy, explosives chemistry, fuel sources and purification …

          1. Since none of those provides for the common defense or general welfare of the United States, the government does not have the authority to pay for them.

            We’re not even supposed to have a standing army at all, except for times of emergency.

            1. Considering that this research DOES provide the basic research to promote the general welfare, I’m not sure you really have a reasonable complaint.

              But the constitution does not forbid a standing army. This was debated during ratification and some did want amendments to forbid a standing army. The issue did not get anywhere.

              1. What government spending could NOT be twisted so as to appear to be justified as promotion of the “general welfare”? Death camps?

          2. Stem cells, along with cyborg technology, fall under military medicine.

      2. Research with immediate applications to legitimate activities of the federal government should be funded. Which is probably like 10% of the total research funding the govt doles out.

        As for those who fear that worthwile research won’t get funded by private interests… start a foundation. If enough people care about furthering the progress of the pure sciences, you’ll have no problem getting funding. If not, then it’s unjust to spend taxpayer dollars on something no one cares about.

        1. Are you for real? I didn’t think so at first, but now I think you’re a split personality…or a person who posts before and after drinking alcohol.

          First, you don’t get to throw around terms like “immediate applications” and “legitimate activities” without conceding to the Left and its masterful use of such euphemisms.

          You throw out “probably like 10%” as if you’re suddenly one of the commenters you love to dismiss, which serves you well when you’re confident, but becomes anecdotal, unverifiable, and worthless when you’re not.

          In the same paragraph, you say start a foundation, but before the carriage return, you’re all about the worthlessness of spending tax dollars on what you previously called “research with immediate applications to legitimate activities of the federal government.”

          1. I have nothing of substance to say other than I like your use of the term “carriage return”. Speaking of which, I’ve been thinking of picking myself up a new onion belt if anyone has any recommendations.

    1. “This is just an ordinary fetus, but to people like me, it’s hope.”


      1. Epi is Christopher Reeves?

        1. The old Christopher Reeve is dead. From now on, I am…Chris.

          1. Christopher Reeves was a pathetic fuck before and after his equestrian accident. Fuck Christopher Reeves, his pathetic post-accident bullshit and any post-mortem ressurection of any Christopher Reeves besides the fact that he was a vacuous fuck.

            1. You haven’t seen the last of me, Hackman!!!

            2. “Noises Off” was pretty funny, and the first two of his Superman movies were pretty good.

              Then again, he didn’t really make any good movies post-accident, now that you mention it. He just rolled around shilling for research dollars to be dedicated to… surprise… his condition.

              Just once, I’d like to see a famous celebrity be stricken by multiple sclerosis and decide to dedicate the rest of his life to the promotion of cancer research, or something genuinely selfless like that. I’m not holding my breath, though.

  2. This post has first-person remarks but no byline.

    1. Damned posting software! Fixed. Thanks.

      1. I’m guessing it was the wetware.

  3. Lets get to some baby killin!

  4. Just for the record, I’d be fine with a precipitous drop in government funding for both stem cell research and military research.

    1. You do realize that the military is a legitimate function of government.

      1. There is no rule that you have to be in favor of funding legitimate functions of government.

  5. Alas, embryonic stem cells have not lived up to the hope they generated.

    There seems to be a lot of that going around.

    1. umm, wouldn’t that have something to do with the fact that some of the biggest and best equipped research centers were forbidden from doing any research? or that the biggest name in that research turned out to be a fraud?

  6. This whole fracas shows why funding for scientific research should not come from the taxpayers. The pursuit of knowledge should not be subject to the whims of polticians.


  7. Alas, embryonic stem cells have not lived up to the hope they generated.

    Back in the day, I remember certain overzealous stem cell boosters accusing pro-lifers of murder for standing in the way of research that would save the lives of “real people”. I don’t expect an apology, but a little more humility in the future would be appropriate.

    1. “a little more humility in the future would be appropriate”

      Tag, you’re it.

    2. So, according to your reasoning we should block funding for something then blame researchers for not making discoveries. Sorry, but you will get no apology or humility, just a rebuke of your twisted logic.

      The ban on embryonic stem cell research created a bureaucratic nightmare for people working with private monies. Laboratories doing work on embryonic cells were not allowed to share lab space, computers, equipment with researchers using public dollars, whether or not those resources were paid with tax dollars or not. Furthermore, your assertion of stem cells being put forth as a miracle cure is nice little exercise in obfuscation. Just because some asshole at huffpost or kos may have asserted such doesn’t mean any serious scientist was promising short term miracles. Nice straw man you set up there nonetheless, very easy to knock down. At least challenge yourself.

      The whole episode points out the nastiness that happens when politics and science intersect. Pharmaceutical companies and private endowments should be providing the funding of this new science.

      1. Laboratories doing work on embryonic cells were not allowed to share lab space, computers, equipment with researchers using public dollars, whether or not those resources were paid with tax dollars or not.


        As a general rule, not just this specific case.

        1. Just so I’m clear here, you think its ‘good’ that the government can step in and tell a university how to use the equipment that they own. Even if this equipment was paid for with grants from private companies and alumni.

          Also, if you think that the guys working on an nih grant don’t share equipment and space with the guys doing research with a pfizer endowment your crazy. Do you really think each lab gets its own centrifuge.

      2. I don’t recall there being any law forbidding them from raising private funds or spending their own money on their research.

  8. ‘The National Institutes of Health authorized 11 lines of cells produced by scientists at the Children’s Hospital in Boston and two lines created by researchers at the Rockefeller University in New York. All were obtained from embryos left over by couples seeking treatment for infertility….’

    We’re creating surplus embryos and then killing them off – we might as well experiment on the remains! ?

    Here’s an idea – a slight amendment to the child-custody law. If the parents refuse to take custody of a human being who has been created in the lab, then the directors of the lab are considered to be the legal guardians of said human being, with the same rights and responsibilities as any other legal guardian of a child.

    There would be no issue of killing the human being in the womb, because the mother or potential incubator has refused to put the embryo in her womb. So the usual excuse – it’s in my womb so I get to kill it if I want – doesn’t apply here.

    Once the lab directors have custody, they would be responsible for the human being’s welfare unless and until it reaches the age of majority – unless another adoptive parent takes the child off the lab’s hands and incurs the same guardianship responsibilities.

    Violations of guardianship responsibilities to be prosecuted like other child-neglect cases. Child neglect would of course include letting the human being in their care die.

    Wouldn’t that incentivize labs not to create human beings unless they know those human beings will be raised and cared for?

    1. Of course, I am speaking of a potential *state* law, not a federal law.

    2. Max, I just talked to Jesus over Google Chat and he thinks you guys are taking this whole stem cell thing way too seriously.

      And look…he just retweeted me that you are a huge doofus.

      1. You know, if you keep putting words in Jesus’ mouth, eventually you’re going to get bit. Can you imagine what the Bite of the Man-God would feel like on your fingers?

      2. That can’t have been Jesus. Don’t you remember the line from The Battle Hymn of the Republic: ‘His Internet connection shall never call retweet.’

        1. You guys are just jealous that I’m Facebook friends with Jesus. See, he has a closed profile so I get to see the drunken party pictures and you can’t. Damn, he is a crazy drunk. but the chicks love him.

            1. They weren’t drunk. Roman checkpoints would have caught them all. It was pure grape juice.

          1. Epi, anyone who can turn water into wine is invited to ALL my parties!

    3. Once the lab directors have custody, they would be responsible for the human being’s welfare unless and until it reaches the age of majority

      How long would that take in a -70 freezer, I wonder.

  9. Absolutely no appeals to religion are needed to recognize the objective scientific fact that, while an embryo is obviously not the functional equivalent of a conscious person, it most definitely *is* at least a proto-person with its own complete, distinct and unique genetic identity.
    Therefore they merit at least some level of consideration in the ethical calculus of purposely creating new embryos willy nilly just for harvesting.

    1. A clone wouldn’t be distinct or unique.

      1. Phony BS nitpick — identical twins aren’t genetically unique, but they are definitely distinct — and when given the chance, becom two ‘unique’ people.

    2. so what are you trying to say?

      1. How about this:
        No appeal to the supernatural is needed to suggest that intentionally creating new human embryos to be destroyed/scavenged/harvested/whatever actually is *not* the same as, say, tinkering with a skin cell tissue culture or clipping one’s nails? Even if one does *not* equate them with adult, conscious human beings.

  10. But… California borrowed 3 *BILLION* to tell GW Bush to fuck himself lead the nation in this research… and now the feds are allowing this nonsense? Is there no respect for the symbolism involved in financially tanking your state anymore?

  11. It’s too bad people have to get government approval for their fetus fucking.

    It’s also too bad that many people don’t understand why certain people object to federal funds being used for research like this.

    1. I don’t think the problem is that people don’t understand. The problem is that when you forcibly extract money from everyone and put it into one common pool, everyone still (rightly) considers it theirs. I’m not going to give up my claim to how my money is spent just because it’s put into a common pool. That you get screwed in the process sucks, but by trying to dictate how the common money is spent screws me out of my control over my money. That’s one of the inherent flaws of government funding of anything. Not to mention the moral problem of robbing people.

  12. I know hate government is very popular around here, but the FDA is a very professional organization, with very may capable professionals among their ranks. Though mistakes are made, they do not always deserve the level of condemnation they recieve.

      1. I second this bullshit.

        For proof of the FDA’s stupidity, one need only look at their recent regulatory claim that alcoholic drinks that have caffeine mixed in them are somehow dangerous or unsafe.

        Never mind that people have been drinking caffeine and alcohol together since about ten minutes after the invention of Coca Cola.

    1. Delay of one beta-blocker drug alone (IIRC, something heart disease related anyway) killed more people than prevention of bad drugs have saved. There is a lot of blood on the FDAs hands.

  13. A clone wouldn’t be distinct or unique.

    An identical twin wouldn’t be either, then.

  14. “embryo *is* … at least a proto-person”

    I have a penny that’s a proto million dollars. Trade me your house for it?

    1. Your post bespeaks near limitless ignorance of the life sciences. Maybe read a book or two about genetics and biology before posting again?

      1. There is no clear line between person and non-person and this issue arises in many places, not just abortion (see brain injury or animal rights). The term proto-person does not assist in resolving this ambiguity, and as such, merely adds confusion.

        1. With ‘proto-person’ I’m recognizing that there is an objective continuum of development of full ‘personhood’ from the just-beyond-non-personhood step of acquiring a minimally human identity starting with a zygote.

          I am *explicitly* recognizing the gray area, whereas you are apparently simply dismissing it in practice. If you suggest that ‘personhood’ is a binary either-or that somehow magically flips state at birth, then I’d suggest you are the one resorting to to some sort of convenient fiction.

      2. And your post offers nothing but smug self-satisfaction in return. I’ve read a book or two about genetics and biology and I still don’t think the “proto-person” argument makes any sense without appealing to religion.

        1. See my reply to DBN.

          In very shortest terms, my takeaway view is that, no, an embryo is not valued the same as an infant, much less a fuly conscious grown woman (for all sorts of obvious, objective reasons) — but that does *not* mean that the embryo has no value, is worthy of no moral/ethical weight.

          I say ‘proto’ because, barring bad luck or intervention, it *is* already embarked on the biological process that will make it become a ‘person’ some day.

    2. Is there anything inherent in the penny that makes it ‘want’ to become a million dollars?

  15. P S,

    I can’t speak for anyone else here. But, I’ll give you my own take on the matter. I have no problem accepting your view that the FDA is staffed by many professionals who really have nothing but the best of intentions. That isn’t the problem. The problem is with the very mission and incentive structure of the FDA per se, not its staffing. The institution in and of itself creates inefficiencies and hampers progress. It would do so no matter who staffed it.

    1. Good point Bill. Another perspective is that the FDA should have no power to tell me what food or drugs I can’t grow, make, consume or sell. Accepting for the moment that there is any reason for their existence whatsoever, their role should be to evaluate and present information, only. I read a few years ago that there are French cheeses I can’t import and consume in the USA because of some ruling by these people — more correctly, because that ruling had power behind it.

      1. Raw milk cheeses are known vectors for Listeria, a bacteria that can cause spontaneous miscarriage. But, you know, fuck those babies, right?

        Only unwanted children must be protected at all costs.

        1. Oh, you win SugarFree. You’re right. We should have a federal agency for every possible externality, and ban every activity (including eating peanuts or shellfish) if someone somewhere (hundreds of miles from your home, on a windy day?) could possibly be harmed by it.

          Maybe it’s easier to keep each of us sealed into a germ free cell, strapped to a chair, and have government handlers provide us safe nourishment, entertainment, health care, etc… for the children.

          1. You’re the one talking about cells in a petri dish having the full set of human rights. You’re the one who wants the government to outlaw medical descriptions. You are a huge fan of overweening government power for the poor defenseless cell blobs.

            You win the ridiculous game, I was just attempt to get to your level.

            1. Huh?? You must have me confused with someone else. Seriously.

        2. SugarFree.

          Well, then there is a great solution to that: Refrain from eating raw milk cheese the next time you get pregnant. Then your kids won’t suffer from a miscarriage and I’ll have the right to eat whatever cheese I want. Everyone’s happy!

  16. What advantages do stem cells have over cyborg technology?

    Organic Technology .

    “Either way, the popularity of the organic technology myth is somewhat baffling. One of the most baffling parts is the fact that it is assumed to be more “advanced”. Here’s a question for you: when did we produce the first armoured vehicle? Was it in World War 1, with the tank? Or was it centuries earlier, with the mounted knight? Did you know that the mounted knight was made possible through selective horse breeding (ie- organic technology), which produced horses big and strong enough to carry the heavy armoured riders into battle? Do you believe that sheepdogs were always like that? Dogs and horses could both be described as examples of bio-technological tools, engineered by humans for specific tasks through the use of applied evolutionary scientific principles (even if they didn’t have a name for them at the time). Bio-weapons are nothing new either, having been used since at least medieval times (besieging armies would catapult diseased carcasses into a fortress). And what about bio-armour? Sorry, but all I can say is “been there, done that”. Wooden ships had bio-armour, remember? Would you seriously want to pit bio-armour against the 120mm smoothbore gun of an M-1 Abrams? There is a reason we switched to steel, people! Think about it.

    At no time have we ever seen a shred of evidence that biological systems can realistically supplant wholly artificial technologies in applications such as large-scale power generation, armour, naval or aircraft propulsion, military weaponry, bridges and buildings, etc. In fact, all of those technologies were developed to replace biological systems! Biological systems are chemically reactive and structurally feeble in comparison to metals and ceramics, and both of these characteristics can spell doom for a starship. Furthermore, there are strict limits to how much this will ever change, because chemical reactivity is a prerequisite for life! Moreover, living cells requires a constant supply of nutrients, which means that all living cells must always be semi-permeable. Compare this to a massive, inert piece of metallic or ceramic/metal composite armour, and you can quickly see the problem for organics.

    “But biological organisms can self-repair!” some might say. However, they are far more easily injured in the first place, and the kind of attack that a biological organism can repair won’t even scratch the surface of a metallic armoured vehicle. “But biology is the most powerful force this planet has ever known!” some might say. Sorry, but that’s one of those non-literal figures of speech, like “the pen is mightier than the sword” or “faith can move mountains”. Nuclear fusion (particularly from the Sun) is far more powerful. “But the roots of a tree can push up sidewalks!” some might say. Sorry, but it’s no big deal to push up a sidewalk. A sidewalk is just stones laying on gravel and dirt, and the routine thermal contraction and expansion of the ground every winter destroys more sidewalk slabs and miles of pavement than tree roots ever could.

    1. I can’t download my brain into a hard drive placed in a cybernetic exoskeleton.

      So, until that day comes, organic technology will be superior for treating organic issues.

      Oh, sure, you can’t build a tank out of fifty tons of pulsating flesh and viscera, but by the same token, you can’t cure a disease with an artillery shell.

  17. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  18. I really think that it is something that we need to just do some more research on. I know that people are going to be offended, but I don’t know if it really is going to be worth it or not to research more. I juts am no expert so i dont know what to say about it all.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.