Magazine article Insight on the News

Research on Embryos Fuels Controversy

Magazine article Insight on the News

Research on Embryos Fuels Controversy

Article excerpt

In a decision sure to have political and ethical ramifications, Harold Varmus, director of the National Institutes of Health, must accept all, some or none of the recommendations of a controversial report supporting federally funded research with human embyros. The report, written by a 19-member ad hoc panel of scientists, medical ethicists and human-reproduction specialists in September, was unanimously accepted by a key NIH advisory committee in December. If Varmus decides in favor of human-embryo research, the NIH will begin accepting applications for research. Currently, all U.S. human-embryo research is privately funded.

Proponents of the research, including the American Fertility Society, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association, argue that it is essential to advance knowledge about human fertilization, genetic development and cell division -- and could lead to breakthroughs in infertility, bone-marrow transplants, repair of spinal cord injuries and skin replacement for burn victims. Such research also could address "severe inherited genetic disorders, birth defects, miscarriage, contraception and cancer, including childhood and reproductive cancers," according to Brigid L.M. Hogan, one of the leaders of the ad hoc panel.

The panel's general guidelines limit research to projects that cannot be carried out with animal embryos or other kinds of research, promise "significant" benefits and use a minimum number of embryos. …

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