In his State of the Union address, President Bush acknowledged the landmark achievement of stem cell scientists who have demonstrated for the first time that human skin cells can be converted into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), which behave like embryonic stem cells. The ISSCR applauds the President’s direction to Federal agencies to provide additional funding for this important research. Although exciting, iPS cell research does not eliminate the need to pursue the great promise of human embryonic stem cell research, and we reiterate our call for the expansion of Federal funding for research for embryonic stem cell lines derived after August 9, 2001.
The technology used to generate iPS cells holds great promise for creating patient- and disease-specific cell lines for research purposes. However, a great deal of work remains before these methods can be used to generate stem cells suitable for safe and effective therapies.
At present, scientists do not know how to produce iPS cells without introducing multiple viruses into the cells, which may cause extensive genome disruption and has been linked to cancer causation in animal models. Moreover, Human iPS cells have been available for only a few months, and not yet widely studied by the research community.
The breakthrough in iPS cell research was made possible by several years of prior embryonic stem cell research. Embryonic stem cell research must continue if scientists are going to have the most modern and powerful research tools at their disposal.
President Bush also called for legislation to ban “unethical practices” such as the “cloning of human life.” The ISSCR is concerned that such legislation may result in overly broad prohibitions of nuclear transfer research (sometimes referred to as “therapeutic cloning”), which is a highly promising method for deriving pluripotent stem cells that has received wide support and approval within the bioethics community. The ISSCR opposes reproductive cloning, but strongly supports nuclear transfer as an important area of study to develop patient-matched stem cell lines for cell therapies and drug development.
We note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has previously announced its intention to block reproductive cloning by notifying the several thousand institutional review boards in the United States that (a) clinical research using cloning technology to clone a human being may not proceed without the filing of an investigational new drug application (IND), and (b) in view of major unresolved safety questions, the agency would not permit any such investigation to proceed. The agency reiterated this stance in another widely distributed letter to fertility clinics. Given that this existing mechanism prevents human reproductive cloning it is unclear what additional legislation can accomplish.
The International Society for Stem Cell Research is an independent, nonprofit membership organization established to promote and foster the exchange and dissemination of information and ideas relating to stem cells, to encourage the general field of research involving stem cells and to promote professional and public education in all areas of stem cell research and application.