Top researchers want access to federal dollars because they do not want to relinquish this kind of important research to private companies alone. "Private firms tend to treat their findings as proprietary information, and often the results of their research donít get published," says Gorman. While the debate about the rights and wrongs of such research rages on, it may yet become moot. "Scientists," says Gorman, "will eventually figure out how to grow stem cells without relying on fetal tissue every time." There are two possibilities: harvesting stem cells from an embryo once, and then creating a stem cell line from that single extraction for all subsequent research; or conversely, extracting a differentiated cell, say a blood cell, from an adult and turning such a cell back into a stem cell.
It may have been a trial balloon, but a presidential bioethics commission let it be known over the weekend that it is close to approving the use of federal funds for certain kinds of research using fetal tissue. The possible recommendation, which would require the lifting of a congressional ban barring research on human embryos, has raised outrage among a number of ethicists and pro-life groups. The panelís likely proposal would permit federally funded researchers to extract stem cells from embryos for research. Stem cells have the potential for being transformed into many types of cells and "hold great promise" in helping treat or cure a number of diseases that require the replacement of tissue, such as Parkinsonís disease, says TIME medical columnist Christine Gorman.