Thirty-three U.S. Nobel Prize winners have asked Congress and President Clinton to permit federal funding of controversial stem-cell research.
The scientists' letter was meant to counter an effort last month by 70 members of Congress to prevent government funding of the research, which the lawmakers said "relies on the mutilation and destruction of human embryos" and violates "the letter and spirit of federal law."
Nobel laureates signing the new letter include Stanford chemist Paul Berg, president of the American Society for Cell Biology; the University of Texas' Ferid Murad, last year's winner in medicine; and Stanford physicist Douglas D. Osheroff, also honored by the Nobel Committee last year.
"Stem-cell research has enormous potential for the effective treatment of human disease," the letter said. "There is, therefore, a moral imperative to pursue it."
The letter was sent Friday and made public yesterday.
Rep. Jay Dickey, the Arkansas Republican who is among the leaders of the effort to block stem-cell research, said he had not seen the letter and could not comment on the scientists' arguments. Other opponents of federal funding of stem-cell research were unavailable.
But opponents made their stand clear in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala last month, saying "it would be a travesty" to fund the research.
Stem cells are the recently isolated human cells that continually divide, producing other cells that can develop into complete bodily organs, such as a heart or liver.
The stem cells that scientists are most eager to work with are called "pluripotent." That means they can form most, but not all, tissues of an organism. …