NIH chief asks for end to ban on stem cell research

NATION DIGEST

March 20, 2007

WASHINGTON -- Lifting the ban on taxpayer funding of research on new stem cells from fertilized embryos would better serve both science and the nation, the chief of the National Institutes of Health told lawmakers yesterday.

Allowing the ban to remain in place, Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni told a Senate panel, leaves his agency fighting "with one hand tied behind our back. ... It is clear today that American science will be better served - the nation will be better served - if we allow our scientists to have access to more cell lines," Zerhouni told two members of the Senate health appropriations subcommittee during a hearing on the NIH's proposed 2008 budget.

The NIH, with a nearly $29 billion annual budget, is the main federal agency that conducts and funds medical research. Zerhouni's comments appear to be his strongest yet in support of lifting President Bush's 2001 ban that restricted government funding to research using only embryonic stem cell lines then in existence. There are just 21 such lines now in use.

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