US restrictions on human embryonic research may loosen.
The US Congress looks set to vote on whether to loosen the restrictions that currently govern human embryonic stem-cell research.
Under an agreement reached earlier this month, the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives will for the first time allow the body to debate and vote on whether to change the regulations.
The current rules, which were announced by President George W. Bush on 9 August 2001, prohibit the use of federal money to pay for research on human embryonic stem-cell lines created after that date.
Congressman Mike Castle (Republican, Delaware), who favours easing the restrictions, says that he has reached a deal with Republican leaders Roy Blunt (Missouri), Eric Cantor (Virginia) and House speaker Dennis Hastert (Illinois). “My sense is that the speaker means to have a legitimate debate and a vote on whether to open up the policies on embryonic stem-cell research,” Castle says.
Until now, the Republican leadership has opposed a review of Bush's rules. But developments since the policy was announced have convinced some prominent Republicans, including Senator Orrin Hatch (Utah), to reconsider. Scientists have said that there are not as many cell lines available as the president initially said there would be. And the lines have all been made or grown on animal cells, which means that they will not be suitable for clinical trials in people.
Castle claims that a 100 million people could benefit from the research. “I think the leadership understands the importance of that,” Castle says, “and frankly some of them are probably in favour of it quietly, if not openly.”
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