As expected, President George W. Bush vetoed a bill that would have expanded the number of human embryonic stem (ES) cells available to federally funded researchers. Surrounded by 200 applauding supporters, Bush also issued an Executive Order to promote the hunt for "alternative" sources of pluripotent stem cells.
Stem cell advocates deplored the latest reiteration of a policy that Bush first laid down on 9 August 2001. The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research in Washington, D.C., expressed "anger and disgust." It criticized the president for "continu[ing] to rely on ... an extremist minority" for his information and for ignoring "the overwhelming majority in the medical, scientific, and spiritual communities." Referring to legislation that passed by margins of 247 to 176 in the House and 63 to 34 in the Senate, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) vowed to "continue the fight until this bill is finally signed into law."
Standing with Bush in the White House's multi-chandeliered East Room was a family whose daughter, with spina bifida, got a new bladder built from adult bladder stem cells. Also backing him up were ethicist William Hurlbut of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, an advocate for finding alternative methods to embryo destruction for generating ES cells, and physician Donald Landry of Columbia University, who is seeking to get stem cells from "dead" embryos.
Bush called on Congress and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, to redouble efforts at finding sources of pluripotent--that is, ES-like--stem cells that don't involve embryo destruction. Arguing that his policies are "ambitious, ethical, and effective," he cited reports about pluripotent cells found in amniotic fluid and the reprogramming of mouse skin cells to become like ES cells. He repeated his support for legislation promoting alternatives, a measure many scientists say is unnecessary because NIH already encourages such research.
The new Executive Order renames the NIH Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry the Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Registry. It opens the way for new lines "produced in ways that do not create, destroy, or harm human embryos" to be added to those approved for federal funding. So far, no such lines are available, but one may be forthcoming. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts, is seeking NIH approval for an ES cell line developed from a single cell taken from an eight-cell embryo, a step that he says was achieved without harming the embryo (ScienceNOW, 19 June).