Embryo research gets a new lease of life

The US government is spurring on embryo research that might provide crucial treatment clues to ailments still evading cures

Published: Wednesday 30 November 1994

-- All is not over for haernophiliacs (patients suffering from a rare disease of the blood) and those suffering from night blindness can still hope to see better in the dark. Research on human embryos, which have important bearings on these diseases, has received a shot in the arm. The us National Institutes of Health (NIH) is expected to provide a new thrust to it.
Sentimental block For years, anti-abortion sentiments in the us have dampened research activities. Both the Reagan and the Bush administrations had blocked all federal funding to embryo research'. But now, the Clinton regime is keen to spearhead such studies, provided malpractices are curbed. The NIH has set up a Human Embryo Research panel specifying that embryos should not be more than 14 days old. Scientists should also be able to demonstrate a "compelling reason" why animal embryos could not be used.

The panel recommended that test-tube embryos should be created. Surplus embryos from in-vitro fertilisation treatments (sperm and ovum extracted from human bodies and fertilised externally) were used until recently. But now, adequate evidence will have to be provided to prove the 11 outstanding scientific and therapeutic value" of the work. The panel specifically forbids paying women for donating ova.

"It's been difficult to mount any consistent research effort in this area because of the scarcity of funding," says Roger Pedersen of the University of California at San Francisco. But now, the NIH has received 70 grant applications from researchers.

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