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Stem cell research Q

Stem cell research Q & A

by the Academic Health Center

From eNews, February 19, 2004

The University of Minnesota's recent decision to pursue investigation of embryonic stem cells has received considerable attention over the past couple of weeks. Stems cells--parent cells for all the body's tissues--offer great potential and promise for important medical treatments and cures. But embryonic stem cell use is controversial and federal funding is prohibited for research on newly donated embryos. Following is a brief Q & A on some of the main issues surrounding stem cell research at the University. Q. Do University scientists currently study embryonic stem cells? A. Yes. Scientists at the University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute study stem cells derived from adult bone marrow as well as embryo stem cells approved for federal research funding by President Bush in 2001. Q. If University scientists already have embryo stem cells to study, why do they want to expand the effort? A. Scientists find the few federally approved stem cell lines lacking for a few reasons. First, of the nearly 70 lines thought to be available for research, the National Institutes of Health has approved fewer than a dozen for research. Second, the human embryo stem cells approved for federal research funding by President Bush in 2001 have been contaminated by mouse cells and are not likely to be useful in any clinical way. Third, and perhaps most importantly, these approved lines represent only a tiny fraction of the human gene pool, and do not well-represent the diversity of the human population or the diversity of human illness. The existing cells may not be usable for someone with a certain disease or the studies' results may only be applicable in a very limited case. Q. Where will these new embryo stem cells come from? A. The University will not create embryos but use those donated for research. These embryos come from fertility clinics where parents have chosen to donate their unused, frozen five- or six-day blastocysts (the embryonic stage that implants) rather than discard them. Q. Is it legal for the University to do research with embryo stem cells that are not from federally approved embryo stem cell lines? A. Yes. But it would be illegal to pay for it with federal funds. That's why the University is seeking private funding for the research effort. Q. How can stem cell research benefit the public? A. Here at the University, researchers are studying the use of all types of stem cells for repairing damaged hearts, treatments and cures for Parkinson's Disease and stroke, and treatments for inherited genetic diseases.

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