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Duke Reaction to Stem Cell Research Decision

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

Attributable to: R. Sanders Williams, MD, Dean, Duke
University School of Medicine, and Vice Chancellor for Academic
Affairs, Duke University Medical Center

I am encouraged that the President has approved the use of
federal funds for embryonic stem cell research, but hopeful
that the present restrictions soon will be changed to broaden
the access of academic investigators to this field.

Our view is that stem cell research is critical to the
betterment of human health. Duke University Medical Center is
committed to the acquisition of new knowledge in this and other
areas in which scientific breakthroughs that benefit our
patients and the nation are likely to emerge. It is important
that such research be carried out in academic institutions
committed to open scrutiny of methods and free disclosure of
results. Research in this field should not be limited to
commercial laboratories that serve different missions. The
limitations established by the President on the sources of
embryonic stem cells acceptable for federal funding will
present the greatest handicaps to academic medical centers that
otherwise would drive the most rapid progress toward new and
effective therapies.

Stem cell research will play an important role in our search
for cures for otherwise intractable diseases that affect the
heart, brain and other organs, with debilitating and tragic
outcomes for millions of individuals in our country. An
attractive possibility is that we will be able to cure such
diseases using stem cells derived from adults, without the use
of embryonic cells, and such opportunities are being explored
aggressively at Duke. However, studies of embryonic stem cells,
properly regulated, have a rightful place in federally funded
research as well. Duke is committed to conducting such
investigations, while adhering to the principle that all
research must be conducted in ways that are respectful of the
diversity of values that exist among different segments of our
society. We support the positions stated in the Belmont Report,
which advocate the highest standards of ethical conduct in
scientific research.

A recent NIH report on stem cell research noted the
impossibility of predicting the future of stem cell
applications because of the presently primitive state of
understanding of stem cell biology. The report commented
correctly that scientists don't know which stem cells -- those
derived from the embryo, the fetus, or the adult -- or which
methods for manipulating the cells, will best meet the needs of
basic research and clinical applications. We simply don't know
whether the limited number of cell lines authorized by the
President will prove adequate to provide the correct scientific
answers. A broader program of research would be more likely to
prove successful.

I am confident that, soon, public appreciation of the
medical importance of embryonic stem cell research will
increase, and our political leaders will reduce these currently
stringent restrictions on their generation and use.

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