- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The author of a study on amniotic stem cells urged Congress yesterday not to consider his work a substitute for the search for disease-fighting material from embryonic stem cells.

“Some may be interpreting my research as a substitute for the need to pursue other forms of regenerative medicine therapies, such as those involving embryonic stem cells. I disagree with that assertion,” wrote Anthony Atala of Wake Forest University, the author of a study published this week.

Mr. Atala and other researchers reported Sunday that the stem cells they drew from amniotic fluid donated by pregnant women hold much the same promise as embryonic stem cells. Opponents of embryonic-stem-cell research seized on the findings as a more moral option.

In a letter to sponsors of legislation up for a House vote tomorrow, Mr. Atala wrote that it was “essential that National Institutes of Health-funded researchers are able to fully pursue embryonic stem cell research as a complement to research into other forms of stem cells.”

The bill, which would clear the way for federally funded embryonic research, is expected to pass but without the two-thirds majority required to override President Bush’s expected veto. Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, said he expects the same bill to reach that veto-proof threshold when it comes up in his chamber in a few weeks.

Mr. Atala’s study and the letter add a dose of drama to the second round of Congress’ battle with Mr. Bush over whether taxpayers should fund embryonic-stem-cell research. Mr. Bush and a minority of Americans say the research is immoral because the process of culling the stem cells kills the embryo.

Opponents of the legislation, which Mr. Bush vetoed last year, say Mr. Atala’s study bolsters their argument that science need not advance at the expense of budding human life.

“We’re talking about saving lives here,” said Rep. Phil Gingrey, Georgia Republican, an obstetrician and staunch opponent of embryonic-stem-cell research. “We don’t have to split the nation on this if we’ve got an alternative.”

He won’t have much luck peeling off support from the bill, said one of its sponsors. “We won’t lose anyone who was going to support the bill,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat, one of her party’s vote counters in the House. In fact, she predicted, several lawmakers who voted against the bill in the last Congress will vote for it tomorrow.

The research reported this week suggests that stem cells extracted harmlessly from the amniotic fluid that cushions an unborn baby in-utero hold much the same promise for fighting disease as embryonic stem cells. Scientists hope that someday stem cells may be used against diseases such as for Lou Gehrig’s, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer.

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