John D. Gearhart's response to President Bush's stem cell decision

August 10, 2001

First, I want to say that I recognize and respect President Bush's decision and the attention he paid to the complexity and difficulty of the issues. I'm pleased that he is enabling some of this work to go forward with federal funding, which is vital to efforts to accelerate progress in bringing stem cell research to the clinic.

The President's policy has some limitations, but it is a good place to start to expand the base of scientists doing this research. In the next few weeks, as details of the policy become clear, my colleagues and I will have a better sense of these limitations and what they will mean. Right now, for example, I'm uncertain about the location and origin of the 60 cell lines he referred to in his statement or how it will be determined whether a particular cell line existed as of last night's policy declaration. There are also questions, of course, about how the research proposals and projects themselves would be overseen, whether the current NIH guidelines would be reinstated or whether the advisory committee he referred to would create a new set of guidelines.

President Bush's decision will not change the way stem cell research is done tomorrow or next week, since it will take time to make the funds available and iron out the details. But even with the limitations he's put forth, it will likely affect stem cell research positively once the systems are in place for evaluating and awarding grants and overseeing the work.

Federal funding is vital to efforts to bring the potential applications of stem cells for treating human disease to reality. Federal funding will help bring more investigators into the field to help speed up the process and will eventually add important peer review and oversight, hallmarks of good scientific research.

Through the Institute for Cell Engineering, Johns Hopkins is committed to pursuing stem cell research with the eventual goal of helping people with currently incurable diseases or injuries. We've been fortunate and are grateful for the private support that we have had over the years, and will work hard to build on that support to accelerate our work.

GENERAL POTENTIAL OF STEM CELL RESEARCH:

Research on stem cells is likely to lead to advances in understanding and treating many diseases, including Alzheimer's Disease, cancer, Parkinson's disease and ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, and also for spinal cord and nerve injury and paralysis. The fundamental information gained from stem cell research - knowledge about how tissues and organs develop and how undifferentiated cells "learn" to develop into every distinct cell in the body - is revolutionizing understanding of biology and medicine. There is still much to learn about every aspect of stem cells - both embryonic and adult. Certainly the eventual goal is to improve the human condition, but decades of work are ahead before we understand the processes that control them, their safety for therapeutic uses, and how to get the cells to become what we need clinically.
-end-
John D. Gearhart, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
His lab was the first to isolate and characterize human pluripotent stem cells from fetal germ cells.
Investigator, Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering
Professor, gynecology and obstetrics
Professor, physiology
Professor, comparative medicine
Professor, Population and Family Health Sciences


Johns Hopkins Medicine

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