According to the letter, the discovery of stem cells, capable of giving rise to virtually any tissue type, could be the most significant scientific and medical breakthrough in the past decade. The result of such research could lead to treatments and/or cures for some of America's most degenerative illnesses, including Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, spinal cord injury, and heart disease. In addition, the study of stem cells could contribute to the understanding of birth defects and the development of new drugs targeted at specific diseases.
The letter, which was signed by Mary L. Good, chair of the AAAS Board, Peter H. Raven, president of AAAS, and Floyd E. Bloom, president-elect of AAAS, offers to assist the administration in its review of current federal policy regarding stem-cell research. The AAAS officers expressed their wish that government policy will not foreclose the hope that the many sufferers of disease and disability have vested in stem-cell research.
The letter acknowledges that there is a common misconception that the use of adult stem cells-as opposed to embryonic and fetal stem cells-will be sufficient for research. The AAAS notes that, based on current knowledge, many in the scientific community doubt that adult stem cells will be as effective as other stem cells in treating diseases.
In addition to the letter, a detailed AAAS report on the subject of stem-cell research was sent to President Bush. Based on many months of study by scientists, ethicists, and theologians, the November 1999 report recommends that "federal funding for stem cell research is necessary in order to promote investment in this promising line of research, to encourage sound public policy, and to foster public confidence in the conduct of such research." The report also addresses ethical concerns raised by the use of embryonic and fetal stem cells and concludes that it is possible to conduct embryonic stem-cell research in a fully ethical manner.
According to the report, the case for public funding is made even stronger by the amount of stem-cell research taking place in the private sector without public oversight. Public funding, the reports states, would help to ensure that the research is closely monitored and meets ethical standards.
Founded in 1848, AAAS is the world's largest federation of scientists with more than 138,000 individual members and 273 affiliated societies. The Association publishes the weekly, peer-reviewed journal Science and administers EurekAlert! (www.eurekalert.org), the online news service featuring the latest discoveries in science and technology.
Editor's Note: Copies of the letter are available upon request.
The stem-cell research report can be accessed at http://www.