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HEALTH REPORT - New Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Developed for Researchers - 2004-08-10

Broadcast: August 11, 2004

This is Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Health Report.

Researchers in the United States recently announced the development of seventeen new lines of human embryonic stem cells. The researchers work at Harvard University for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. They said the new stem cell lines will be offered for use by other scientists.

Stem cells have qualities that might make them useful in the treatment of diseases. Scientists are especially interested in stem cells from embryos. These are able to develop into the different kinds of tissues of the body.

In two thousand two, President Bush restricted government support for such research. Federal money can only go to research on existing lines of embryonic stem cells.

Opponents of these limits include Ron Reagan, the son of the former Republican president. He gave a speech last month at the Democratic convention in Boston. He is not a scientist, but he described how stem cells might someday be used to treat a disease:

Doctors would take a cell from a patient and place the nucleus inside an egg. Chemicals or electricity would cause the nucleus to divide into more cells to form an embryo. The stem cells could then be used to replace unhealthy cells in the patient.

Many scientists have hope for the possibility of such cures. Not all think the promise is as great as some people might believe, at least not yet. But some people oppose the use of embryonic stem cells. They say human life is destroyed because the embryo is destroyed to collect the cells.

Private laboratories are not affected by the government limits. The new stem cell lines were developed by scientists in the laboratory of Douglas Melton. He is a Howard Hughes researcher at Harvard. The institute along with the university and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation pay for his research.

The laboratory will use the stem cell lines to look for a cure for type one diabetes. Type one diabetes is also called juvenile diabetes. It is generally found in young people.

The disease is caused by a lack of cells that produce insulin in the pancreas. Douglas Melton’s goal is to learn how to make embryonic stem cells that can grow the needed pancreatic cells. He says he hopes the new cell lines will speed this research and lead to new discoveries about other diseases, too.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Paul Thompson. This is Gwen Outen.