Clinton touts "staggering benefits" of embryo cell research

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The Independent US

President Bill Clinton has touted new U.S. government guidelines allowing scientists to conduct federally funded research on cells taken from human embryos, saying they offer "potentially staggering benefits."

President Bill Clinton has touted new U.S. government guidelines allowing scientists to conduct federally funded research on cells taken from human embryos, saying they offer "potentially staggering benefits."

The guidelines for the research are vehemently opposed by anti-abortion groups. They set out the criteria the National Institutes of Health will use to consider applications for federal grants to study embryonic stem cells, according to an advocate who was briefed on the standards and the schedule for issuing them.

Experts believe the cells could be invaluable in treating many serious diseases, such as diabetes and Alzheimer's. But some oppose the research on grounds that to get the cells, scientists must destroy human embryos.

At an impromtu news conference, Clinton acknowledged the controversy surrounding this new scientific initiative.

But he said: "I think that if the public will look at first of all the potentially staggering benefits of this research, everything from birth defects to Parkinson's, certain kinds of cancer, diabetis, spinal cord injuries ... it's a potential change for the future."

He said the prospect for helping Americans and people around the world "is breathtaking. These guidelines are not put out without a rigorous scientific research."

Clinton also said it would deal only "with those embryos that are collected in in-vitro fertilization."

"I think we cannot walk away from the potential to save lives and improve lives," he said, "to help people get up and walk ... as long as we meet rigorous ethical standards, and I am convinced and (Health and Human Services) Secretary (Donna) Shalala is convinced that has been done."

The research involves what are called pluripotent stem cells, the foundation cells that give rise to all of the other cells, tissues and organs in the body.

Scientists believe it may be possible to use these cells to grow new organs to replace ailing hearts, treat brain disorders, to restore severed nerves in spinal injuries, and perhaps even cure diabetes by growing new insulin-producing cells.

Under the guidelines, federal research may be conducted only on cells taken from frozen embryos from fertility clinics - already destined to be discarded. Also, federal funds could not be used to destroy the embryos to obtain the cells - privately funded researchers will have to pass them on to federally supported scientists. Opponents criticize this separation as meaningless.

They outlaw payments to embryo donors and keep donors from specifying who should receive their embryo's stem cells. These provisions aim to discourage a market for stem cells and block a woman from creating embryos just to provide treatment for a sick relative.

The advocate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday evening that the rules would more strenuously ensure that donors understand that their embryos will not survive the extraction process and that the stem cells could be transplanted into patients.

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