The Niche

New stem cell bill in Congress?

Cross-posted from In the Field for Elie Dolgin

After the fanfare surrounding President Barack Obama’s executive order on 9 March, which lifted Bush-era restrictions on funding human embryonic stem cell research, the White House has been noticeably quiet about further expanding the science — one of Obama’s campaign promises. “We need to remind the President of this type of research,” Delaware congressman Michael Castle (Republican) said today at the World Stem Cell Summit in Baltimore, Maryland, the fifth annual summit presented by the non-profit Wellington, Florida-based Genetics Policy Institute.

Castle, together with Colorado congresswoman Diana DeGette (Democrat), previously introduced two bills to expand researchers’ access to human embryonic stem cell lines. Both bills were approved by Congress but vetoed by former President George W. Bush. Now, both House Representatives are at it again, working on new legislation to augment the executive order and prevent potential policy reversals from future residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. “I don’t like to see science subject to the whim of politics at all,” said Castle, who is also working to overturn the Dickey-Wicker amendment, which forbids the creation of embryos for research purposes on the taxpayer’s dime.

The bill is unlikely to brought before Congress anytime this year, however. Olivia Kurtz, Castle’s senior legislative assistant, told me that Castle and DeGette hope to roll out the bill before the current Congress’s term ends in January 2011. In the meantime, they are watching what happens with the National Institutes of Health’s expanded guidelines to identify potential shortfalls in the executive order that need remedying. Castle singled out nuclear cloning — the technique that produced Dolly the sheep — as one line of research that deserves further attention.

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