BOSTON — A Boston doctor now has official approval to proceed with tax-funded research on human embryonic stem cell lines. Dr. George Daley, of Children’s Hospital Boston, is working on 11 of the 13 lines that the National Institutes of Health approved Wednesday.
“There’s no doubt it’s going to speed up research,” Daley told WBUR’s Bob Oakes in an interview Thursday morning. “For the last eight years, we’ve been working under tremendous restrictions.”
The move follows President Obama’s decision last spring to lift the restrictions, but researchers had to wait for final approval.
Before the NIH decision, researchers had to raise private funds to develop stem cell lines and keep such work separate from federally funded work. If it weren’t for some “visionary philanthropists” in the Boston area who donated to his research, Daley said, it wouldn’t have been possible to fund.
Even private funding had begun drying up, he added, with the economy in its current state.
Three requests for the stem cell lines had already come into Daley’s office from around the country Wednesday, and he expects dozens more over the next couple weeks. In anticipation of the NIH approval, his office had about 100 vials of the cells, from each batch of the newly-approved lines, banked and ready to ship out.
“We’re eager indeed to distribute them and share these incredibly valuable tools with scientists not just here in the United States but worldwide,” Daley said. “We’re expecting that there’s a tremendous pent-up desire.”
But Will It End The Controversy?
The stem cells that Daley works with come from the earliest human embryos. They are created by in vitro fertilization clinics, which inevitably create some extra embryos.
Couples are given the choice to either dispose of the extras as medical waste or to donate them to medical research. If they choose to donate them, they’ll go to a place like Daley’s lab, where they are highly valued.
“These are the master cells of the human body,” Daley said. “They’re the seeds that make all of our tissues. These remarkably plastic and versatile cells can become nerve cells and muscle and heart — and there’s essentially no disease that won’t be touched by these kinds of stem cells in the future.”
The NIH approved lines it considered “ethically appropriate for tax-paid research,” and Daley said most of the extra embryos that come into his lab contain only about 64 cells.
But for opponents of human embryonic stem cell research, who say that all embryos are human beings and should not be destroyed, an embryo is an embryo — no matter how few cells it contains.
“Even if you believe in the sanctity of the human embryo and believe that this cluster of 64 cells represents a person,” Daley said, “I think most people agree that instead of disposing of them as medical waste, which is what most of their fates are, it’s preferable to use them in potentially life-saving research.”
Click “Listen Now” to hear the interview with Dr. George Daley on Morning Edition.