by Tony Perkins
March 21, 2007
As the Senate weighs a bill forcing taxpayers to pay for research that requires the killing of human embryos, one of the president’s top scientists suddenly jumped ship on the administration’s policy in order to support the legislation. With a vote just weeks away, Dr. Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), raised eyebrows with the timing of his endorsement, particularly since he has defended the administration’s stance in the past. To the Senate Appropriations Health Subcommittee, Zerhouni said, “It is clear today that American science will be better-served, and the nation will be better-served, if we let our scientists have access to more stem cell lines… I think it is important for us not to fight with one hand tied behind out back, and NIH is key to that.”
However, in his bold pitch for taxpayer money, Zerhouni neglected to justify the need for more embryonic stem cell (ESC) lines. Have there been so many advances with the 22 current lines that scientists can legitimize new ones? If Zerhouni is requesting taxpayer money from the Senate—in addition to the $40 million NIH spent last year on the project—then the least he could do is provide a record of ESC research advances and a detailed list of what cannot be done without new lines.
The reality is, 85% of the world’s embryonic studies use President Bush’s approved lines, and the NIH is waiting to distribute 3,000 shipments of cells derived from them. In the past, Zerhouni has said these lines are sufficient. What’s changed? Dr. Zerhouni also downplayed the promise of adult stem cells, saying that their potential is “overstated.” As the nation’s top scientist, Zerhouni should know that patients are using adult stem cell alternatives to treat over 70 diseases. We have personally met patients who are reaping the benefits of adult stem cells in therapies for sickle cell anemia, heart disease, leukemia and other diseases. That is progress, not speculation.