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Mayo Clinic plans to review its stem-cell policy

By Jeff Hansel

jhansel@postbulletin.com

Mayo Clinic plans to review its embryonic stem-cell research policy after President Obama signed an executive order Monday saying federal funding can now be used for research that uses new lines of stem cells.

For eight years, researchers could get federal research money only if they used previously existing stem-cell lines. Or, they could skip federal funding and seek private money to conduct research with new cell lines.

Embryonic stem cells, proponents of Obama’s move argue, come from human embryos that would otherwise be discarded. Opponents, however, argue it’s morally wrong to use embryos for research.

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Will Mayo Clinic begin embryonic stem-cell research?

Eric Wieben, chair of the Mayo Clinic Stem-Cell Research Oversight Subcommittee, said Monday that he doesn’t anticipate Mayo researchers will create new lines of stem cells at Mayo.

He "wouldn’t be surprised if people began discussing that, given today’s developments. But this is still relatively new and people are still trying to decide what opportunities are present that weren’t present."

Would embryonic stem-cell research conflict with the values of the Sisters of Saint Francis, who work with Mayo to maintain the Catholic Franciscan identity of Saint Marys?

"We have had a very close dialogue with the people in charge of Saint Marys," Wieben said.

"Embryonic stem-cell research has not — and will not — be carried out at Saint Marys."

Mayo recently has denied that stem-cell research occurs on its campus, federally funded or otherwise.

But, Wieben said, "over the last year we have had an institutional discussion and approved a couple of investigators to begin doing embryonic stem-cell work."

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That means the researchers will use stem-cell lines that were already in existence, so they would have qualified for federal research dollars, even under the old policy.

Wieben wasn’t sure if their research has begun. But it has been approved, he said. Wieben said it will take time for Obama’s new policy to reach the laboratory because there will be a delay before federal rule changes are enacted, and then another delay before research proposals are reviewed for potential federal funding.

"I hope that this type of research will create some new therapies over time," Wieben said.

Obama’s move will broaden research into conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease, he said.

Reporter Jeff Hansel covers health for the Post-Bulletin. Read his blog, Pulse on Health, at Postbulletin.com.

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