In a move likely to heighten political tensions, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will conduct its first ethical review of human pluripotent stem cell lines this month. The review will determine whether the cell lines were derived according to NIH's specific ethics guidelines. That's the first hurdle a researcher has to jump in winning government funding for research involving the controversial cells.
Many antiabortion groups oppose taxpayer funding of studies using the cells because they are derived from human embryos or fetal tissue. Opponents are pushing the Bush Administration to ban such funding. White House officials say they hope to decide the issue by early summer. Last summer, NIH went ahead and issued guidelines for researchers who want to use federal funds for work with the stem cells (Science, 1 September 2000, p. 1442). For example, embryonic stem cells must have been derived from frozen embryos that were left over after fertility treatments and set to be discarded.
NIH officials had hoped to begin reviewing proposals in December, but no scientists submitted applications in time. At least three groups met a more recent deadline, NIH acting director Ruth Kirschstein told Science last week. NIH has not released their identities, but Martin Pera of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, confirms that his team, which has developed several stem cell lines, is in the mix.
NIH's new Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Review Group (HPSCRG) will hold a public meeting on 25 April to review the applications. The agency plans to announce the meeting, and the names of HPSCRG members, on 10 April.