NOT ABOUT KATRINA
So ... that very limited number of embryonic stem cell lines that can be researched using federal dollars under the Bush Doctrine?
Er, it appears that the cells are mutating and may start becoming useless.
The story comes from Ronald Bailey at Reason Online (yeah, I know, libertarians; hey, they're very much on the right side on this issue):
... it turns out that many current stem cell lines may have expiration dates. An international team of scientists headed by Aravinda Chakravarti at Johns Hopkins University, using a series of highly sensitive genetic and molecular tests, checked nine of the available 22 federally approved human embryonic stem cell lines and found that older batches of cells experienced changes that look a lot like the transformations that scientists see in cancer cells.
...The team of researchers matched early passage stem cell lines (ones that had undergone only a few divisions before being frozen) with cells from the same lines that undergone more passages....
One worry for stem cell researchers who are constrained by federal funding is that the supply of early passage stem cells from federally approved lines will be depleted. "We don't know what stocks of frozen early passage cells suppliers have, which means that they might run out of them," said [Dan] Arking [one of the researchers at Johns Hopkins University].... "The science tells us that stem cells go bad in tissue culture and if researchers want to use them for research or therapy, they will need a continual supply of early passage stem cells," concluded Arking. The good news is that many new embryonic stem cell lines have been created around the world and are available to privately funded researchers.
The bad news, of course, is that you won't be able to get federal funding to research those new lines until, at the earliest, Inauguration Day 2009.
The "right to life" crowd is thrilled:
... The new development may mean embryonic stem cells may never be able to help patients suffering from various diseases.
...Transplanting such embryonic cells into a patient could cause more medical problems than they would be likely to solve, scientists said.
...The discovery is another bonus for adult stem cell research, touted as a more ethical and more effective alternative. Such cells come from non-controversial sources like umbilical cord blood and bone marrow rather than by destroying days-old unborn children....
But as Reason's Bailey notes, Dan Arking, the Johns Hopkins researcher, doesn't think that's the case at all:
...Arking points out that adult stem cell lines grown in tissue culture are likely to suffer as much and perhaps even more from mutations and the other genetic changes that embryonic stem cells are subject to. Arking remains a firm booster of embryonic stem cell research, declaring, "I have no doubt that human embryonic stem cells will revolutionize how we do therapy some day."
I imagine that's true -- no thanks to the current administration.
(More information on the study here.)