Recommendations to approve or reject 20 of these lines is expected on Friday, the NIH director said.
NIH policy still calls for new embryonic stem cell lines to be developed without taxpayer funding. "There is still a ban against the creation of new stem cell lines with federal funds," Collins stressed.
All the stem cell lines NIH is considering are derived from embryos left over from in vitro fertilization. These embryos would have been discarded, but the donors gave permission for them to be used in research, Collins noted.
At present, 31 NIH research grants, worth $21 million, are on hold, awaiting approval of these stem cell lines. With the approval of the 13 lines, researchers can begin to look at these lines to see if they are appropriate for their projects, Collins said.
Those projects include efforts to grow heart muscle, neurological stem cells and neurons. Other research is focusing on ways to produce more stem cells so they can be available in greater quantities to researchers, he said.
Embryonic stem cells are thought to be especially useful to medical science because they can be manipulated to become any type of body cell. Scientists hope to use these cells to create replacement tissues to treat a variety of diseases, such as diabetes, Parkinson's, spinal cord injuries and Alzheimer's disease.
"It is exciting to be able to say that -- after what has clearly been a time of some frustration on the part of the scientific community's inability to gain access with federal funds to cell lines that investigators wish to utilize -- that is now changing," Collins said.
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