- The Washington Times - Monday, November 18, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) In the latest blow to the already staggering field of stem-cell research, a pioneering scientist is quitting Advanced Cell Technology and abandoning his work trying to clone human embryos.
Jose Cibelli is joining the faculty of Michigan State University, where he will set up a $1 million animal biotechnology lab.
For Mr. Cibelli, 39, it means giving up the experiments to which he's devoted the past five years of his life because it's illegal in Michigan to create and destroy human embryos for research purposes.
Money, along with brains, is draining from the field, despite President Bush's vow 15 months ago to commit federal funds to research human embryonic stem cells, which hold the promise of healing a wide range of diseases and spurring regenerative medicine.
Private funding is nearly nonexistent. Federal funding can support research on only existing stem-cell lines, and obtaining the cells remains exceedingly difficult even for top researchers because of political and intellectual-property disputes or the poor quality of the cells.
Of the 78 stem-cell colonies worldwide that the Bush administration has said are eligible for federally funded research, about a dozen are in good enough shape to experiment on. Even fewer perhaps four lines are being shared and sent to other researchers interested in breaking into a field already clouded with political, ethical and scientific questions.
The seven National Institutes of Health-approved lines in India, for instance, can't be shipped because of that country's laws. Geron Inc., which has seven lines at its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters, won't ship any of its lines unless researchers agree to sign over any discoveries to the company.
When properly nurtured, stem cells can theoretically replicate forever, creating a colony of cells known as a line. Scientists can then harvest cells from the line to supply researchers.
For now, researchers generally have two suppliers to call on, the University of California at San Francisco or the University of Wisconsin. Both are overwhelmed by demand, slowing distribution.
All of this has investors shunning stem-cell companies.
"It's going to take some time before this very important area of research makes it through the political obstacle course," said Steven Burrill, a biotech venture capitalist.
Advanced Cell, based in Worcester, Mass., temporarily suspended Mr. Cibelli's human-cloning efforts for lack of money and also sold its cattle-cloning subsidiary, Cyagra LLC, to raise cash.
Geron, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based industry leader, laid off a third of its work force and cut research spending to bolster its lagging stock price.
Edinburgh, Scotland-based PPL Therapeutics, which helped clone Dolly the sheep, recently announced that its stem-cell program had "no value" and shuttered it after finding no buyers.
Stem-cell research, which involves the destruction of human embryos, has suffered politically from critics, including the Roman Catholic Church and women's rights groups. The controversy has kept would-be investors on the sidelines and made some companies reluctant to discuss their work publicly.


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