- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 2, 2001

The Massachusetts biotech firm denounced by the White House for cloning a human embryo was awarded a $1.8 million research grant in October by the Commerce Department.
The research by Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) intends to find ways to treat major neurological degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, without using embryonic stem cells or cloned embryos.
Nevertheless, Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, sent a letter Friday to Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans, asking him to explain why the grant was given to the Worcester company whose officials have made it known for months they intended to clone a human embryo and would move abroad if a House-passed bill to ban all human cloning becomes law.
"In light of the president's strong opposition, I was shocked" to learn that ACT received a $1.8 million grant from the Commerce Department "just weeks ago," Mr. Barr told Mr. Evans.
"While it is my understanding this grant money is to be used to support research on cell therapy, not cloning, I am distressed … that taxpayers' money is being used to essentially reward a corporation engaging in the unconscionable behavior of human cloning," added Mr. Barr, the vice chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform.
Trevor Francis, Commerce Department spokesman, said he could not comment on Mr. Barr's letter, as neither he nor Mr. Evans had seen it.
"But this grant … is for somatic adult cell research that has nothing to do with embryonic cloning or the use of embryonic stem cells," Mr. Francis said.
He said terms of the Commerce Department grant to ACT, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, specifically prohibit the company from using the grant to clone a human embryo.
ACT became the subject of lead stories on the evening news and in newspapers following reports last Sunday in the Journal of Regenerative Medicine, Scientific American, and U.S. News & World Report that researchers at the small company had successfully cloned a six-cell human embryo. No other scientists had ever done this.
Company officials said their research sought not to fashion a human being but to create a source of stem cells to treat a variety of serious diseases. Embryonic stem cells are a kind of master cell that can grow into any kind of cell in the body.
Jose Cibelli, ACT vice president for research, said the Commerce grant was unrelated to the cloning project
"There is no connection between this project and the human cloning project," except that both are designed to find ways to treat diseases by replacing defective cells, he said in a telephone interview.
In the cloning experiment, the scientists described how they successfully transferred human DNA to a woman's donated egg.
"But eventually we'll have to rely on an alternative source for human eggs," said Mr. Cibelli. The new research explores one possibility.
The grant is being awarded under Commerce's Advanced Technology Program, which was "established to foster development by U.S. industry in new advanced technologies," said Michael Baum, a spokesman for that program.
Mr. Baum said the program's grants aim toward research that is "considered high risk" and which could "offer broad benefits to the nation as a whole."
Such projects, Mr. Baum said, are "more difficult to fund" because of the recognition they "possibly won't work."
"What ACT is attempting to do is very difficult," he said of the Commerce-grant research.
The objective, Mr. Baum said, is to take cells other than sperm and eggs "from a patient and threat them with some kind of biochemical regimen, so that they regress to an earlier stage where they can change to another type of cell."
The research involves transferring the cells back into the patient as "differentiated neuronal cells" that would substitute for damaged nerve cells linked to disorders such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases and multiple sclerosis.
"This would be similar to the goals of human cloning," but would not involve cloning, said Mr. Baum. Because the new cells would be the patient's own cells, there would be no problem of rejection.

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