Stem cell research starts on new line

The private money funds embryonic work the U.S. government wouldn’t pay for.

by Jamie VanGeest

When researchers at the University study embryonic stem cells, ethical questions are raised.

Since President George W. Bush approved federal funds for research on pre-existing embryonic stem cell lines in August 2001, University researchers have been focusing on these lines.

Now private funding will support the creation of new stem cell lines at the University.

Meri Firpo is one of two researchers at the Stem Cell Institute who specialize in embryonic stem cell research at the University.

Firpo will study federally funded lines created before August 2001 and other lines, which she created in a California lab.

Her research focuses on stem cell biology and the use of embryonic stem cells to create pancreatic cells that make insulin.

She hopes to transplant the pancreatic cells into people with diabetes so they can produce their own insulin.

Firpo said researcher Dan Kaufman studies the development of blood-forming cells that could be used for transplantation.

“There is also a strong interest in using (embryonic) stem cells to create cardiac muscle cells and neural cells to treat diseases,” Firpo said.

Third-year law student Kelly Keegan, a member of Law Students for Choice, said she is excited about the new embryonic stem cell lines.

Society owes it to people with diseases to pursue researching these lines, she said.

“Stem cell research is like a Pandora’s box: Once the technology is out there, you can’t really stop it,” Keegan said.

Andrew Gettis, a recent University graduate with a degree in biology and a member of Students for Family Values, said embryonic stem cell research is not the right path, whether it is done with federal or private funds.

“No matter where the money is coming from, it is still resulting in the loss of life,” Gettis said.

Gettis said stem cells from umbilical cords are more promising and funding should be focused on this type of research instead.