The White House
President George W. Bush
Dear President Bush,
I am a spinal cord injury researcher and have been deeply concerned by the delays in the decision to allow the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund human embryonic stem cell research. I believe, as do the vast majority of my fellow neuroscientists, that human embryonic stem cell research is key to many important therapies that will restore function to people with spinal cord injury and other neurological disorders. I also believe that a decision to allow NIH to fund human embryonic research will markedly reduce the currently unbridled use of embryos and fetuses by private companies.
Please accept my sincere compliments and applause for your thoughtful attempts to find reasonable compromises to this difficult situation. Several weeks ago, I understood that you were considering a compromise where NIH would be allowed to fund human embryonic stem cell research that utilizes only already-established cell lines and to have a sunset clause on the rule such that the embryonic stem cell research can be stopped when adult stem cells become available for research and therapy.
This compromise may satisfy some who are opposed to human embryonic stem cell research but, in my opinion, will be unacceptable to many patient advocacy groups for the following reasons. First, it is not clear that we currently have enough and appropriate embryonic stem cell lines. There are probably thousands of different kinds of stem cells and the existing ones may not be suitable for all diseases. Second, a sunset clause, particularly if it is a short period of 3-5 years, would be too restrictive because there are no guarantees that human adult stem cell work will have progressed far enough in such a short time to substitute for embryonic stem cells.
Therefore, I would like to suggest the following alternative compromise which I believe would be acceptable to many of my colleagues and people that I know with spinal cord injury:
1. NIH be allowed to fund human embryonic stem cell research, but only with existing or NIH- and FDA-certified stem cells. If any researcher wants to utilize new embryonic stem cell lines created after the rule change, they must prove to an NIH committee that they cannot obtain the cells from existing cell lines or that existing cell lines do not possess the characteristics for treating particular disorder. Of course, stem cell use in humans must be approved by the FDA.
2. The rule be allowed to lapse in 10 years (a more reasonable period than 3-5 years) but only if NIH funding for adult stem cell research is boosted substantially to ensure that adult stem cells will be available for research and therapy in 10 years. There is strong support in Congress for an increase in funding of adult human stem cell research.
The above compromise will minimize the current unnecessary and uncontrolled destruction of human embryos for research and therapy. There are currently no laws that forbid isolation of stem cells from embryos or fetuses by private companies. Many companies are rushing to take advantage of the governmental indecision on this matter. At least three companies have announced that they are obtaining sperm and eggs from human volunteers to produce embryos for the purpose of creating stem cells. Undoubtedly, other companies are doing the same but are not announcing their work. If an NIH-and FDA- certified source of embryonic stem cells were available and became the standard, I believe that it will be a strong deterrent to the currently unmonitored and widespread use of human embryos and fetuses to produce stem cells. Time is of the essence in this matter.
Thank you very much for your time and attention.
Wise Young, Ph.D., M.D.
Wise Young, Ph.D., M.D., Professor II and Director
W. M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Piscataway, New Jersey