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NIH report backs embryonic, adult stem cell research

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A report by the National Institutes of Health calls for more research on both embryonic and adult stem cells, as President Bush tries to decide whether to allow federal funding for studies on embryonic stem cells.

"To date, it is impossible to predict which stem cells -- those derived from the embryo, the fetus, or the adult... will best meet the needs of basic research and clinical applications," the report says.

The NIH review, which is expected to be released Wednesday, was obtained Tuesday by CNN.

Research foes decry embryo 'slaughter'  

The White House said the report -- a summary of scientific findings so far on the use of stem cells -- is one component in the administration's ongoing ethical and scientific review of stem cell research.

It was requested by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson as part of his department-wide review of stem cell research. Wednesday, a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee will take up the issue.

Supporters of stem cell research hope it leads to the treatment and cure of diseases like diabetes, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

Detractors argue that the removal of the stem cells from the embryo effectively kills it, therefore ending a potential life.

This isn't the first time the NIH has taken a stance in favor of embryonic stem cell research. In January, 1999, the NIH said it should be allowed to fund such research, because it was not included in the ban on human embryo research. It said the stem cells themselves do not have the capacity to develop into an organism that could perform all the life functions of a human being.

But embryonic stem cells are not without their problems, according to the NIH.

"The lines of unaltered human embryonic stem cells that exist will not be suitable for direct use in patients," the report said. "Current challenges are to direct the differentiation of embryonic stem cells into specialized cell populations, and also to devise ways to control their development or proliferation once placed in patients."

This report compares embryonic stem cells to adult stem cells and says that in the laboratory, the embryonic stem cell "can proliferate indefinitely, a property that is not shared by adult stem cells."

"At this point," the report says, "there is no isolated population of adult stem cells that is capable of forming all the kinds of cells of the body.

"Adult stem cells are rare. Often they are difficult to identify, isolate, and purify. There are insufficient numbers of cells available for transplantation and adult stem cells do not replicate indefinitely in culture."

But there are common misconceptions about both adult and embryonic stem cells, the report says. For example, one misconception "is that adult stem cells are ready to use as therapies. With the exception of the clinical application of hematopoietic stem cells to restore the blood and immune system, this is not the case." Such therapies include bone marrow transplants.

Another concern is the possible rejection of a stem cell transplant.

"The potential for the recipient of a stem cell transplant to reject these tissues as foreign is very high," the report said. "Modifications to the cells, to the immune system, or both will be a major requirement for their use."

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