The NIH has rejected a request to approve several dozen colonies of human embryonic stem cells for use by federally funded researchers. The lines were created by Reproductive Genetics Institute, a private infertility clinic based in Chicago. They contain mutations thought to be linked to several diseases including cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and Huntington’s disease.
Many scientists believe that studies using these lines will reveal new information about the diseases, and perhaps lead to new treatments, but NIH Director Francis Collins nixed the proposal on grounds that the acquisition of the new lines violated his organization’s strict ethical guidelines.
The new stem cell lines were obtained from embryos donated by couples that were receiving treatment for infertility. The company decided against using them after tests revealed the genetic defects.
An NIH advisory panel tasked by Collins to evaluate the situation found however, that the consent forms used by RGI to secure the lines included unacceptably broad language and required couples to give up their right to sue the clinic for any cause.
Collins’ decision will limit research on the valuable cell lines to scientists who have secured private funding. The new NIH director did approve 8 other new stem cell lines, meaning that federally funded scientists have 75 different lines they can use for research.
“The NIH guidelines for reviewing stem cell lines for federal funding were set up to adhere rigorously to the well-established norms for informed consent,” Collins said in a statement. “It was painful for my advisory committee to recommend against approval of additional lines from RGI because of a consent problem, but rigorous guidelines are only meaningful if they are rigorously applied.”