May 20, 2003
Mr. Chairman, Senator Harkin, and Members of the Subcommittee, I am pleased to appear before you today to testify about the progress of human embryonic stem cell research. In FY2002, NIH spent approximately $11 million for human embryonic stem cell research to increase the availability of stem cell lines for federal research, train scientists how to use these technically-challenging cells, and conduct basic, pre-clinical research that represents the first steps toward understanding how stem cells might be used to treat injuries and diseases.
More than 60 investigators at 48 institutions have received NIH awards, including 14 investigator-initiated grants and 44 administrative supplements. The administrative supplements allow investigators to rapidly incorporate research on human embryonic stem cells into their ongoing work. As you know, there are 78 lines fully eligible for Federal funding, in various stages of development. NIH support has helped increase to 11 the number of human embryonic stem cell lines that are widely available for all researchers. More lines will become available in the future, as we help the scientific community capitalize on this opportunity. I can report to you today that NIH's implementation of the policy set by the President on August 9, 2001 has enabled the field of stem cell research to advance. We continue to acquire new knowledge about human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). Some of the significant discoveries include the following research findings.
At the same time, we continue to learn more about other types of stem cells, including adult and those derived from umbilical cord blood.
Human embryonic stem cell research is still in its nascent stages, and there are many basic research studies that will be required before we can begin to plan clinical trials. NIH is supporting preliminary research to understand how to direct differentiation along specific pathways, to establish techniques for isolating specific cell types, to control cell proliferation, and to control interactions between the host immune system and transplanted cells that might mediate graft rejection.
Research using hESCs offers the potential to inform us about the earliest molecular and cellular processes that regulate normal development, and provides a tool to discover how a cell is able to be both pluripotent and indefinitely self-renewing. In addition, research using hESCs will help the scientific community to understand the molecular signals that specify differentiation into specific cell types, some of which may ultimately be useful for cell-based treatment of disorders, such as Type 1 diabetes or Parkinson's disease, that involve loss of a specific cell type.
As we continue our work with the research community to fund new research and facilitate the availability of additional stem cell lines, the NIH Stem Cell Task Force is continuously and vigorously evaluating the state of the science to lead the implementation of a vigorous research program envisioned by the President. Attaining basic knowledge about the characteristics and potential use of stem cells remains the immediate challenge before the research community today. Until we understand the basics, we cannot know with certainty the future research requirements for advancing into clinical trials using embryonic stem cells. The NIH will continue to monitor the state of the science and assimilate the body of research evidence in order to make informed, evidence-based recommendations on this important issue.
We are working hard to promote stem cell research, based on recommendations received from the research community by the NIH Stem Cell Task Force. The newest effort is the establishment of the NIH Characterization Unit, located on our campus in Bethesda, Maryland. This unit will provide reliable and standardized data derived from assays performed on human embryonic stem cell lines available for shipment to the research community. The unit will provide a direct side-by-side comparison to be made among the cell lines, and will facilitate comparison with adult stem cells. These data will be publicly available and will arm the scientific community with state-of-the-art information, so scientists can make an informed choice when ordering one or more of the available cell lines.
In response to additional recommendations from the research community, we continue our efforts to recruit new scientists to the field, to help mid-career investigators begin studies on embryonic stem cells, to monitor the state-of-the science through the NIH Stem Cell Task Force, to fund investigator-initiated grants, to disseminate information about the science and initiatives via the NIH Stem Cell Task Force website and to plan for a symposium that will bring together two hundred stem cell researchers from all over the country and several foreign universities.
Again, I want to assure the committee of NIH's commitment to pursuing embryonic stem cell research, as well as continuing our advances in the field of adult stem cell research. The President's policy has provided us the opportunity to be at the forefront of the latest groundbreaking discoveries in the culturing, characterization and differentiation of stem cells, and I am confident that NIH will keep its premier place in this field for years to come.
Last Revised: May 23, 2003