Tom Harkin - U.S. Seante

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Washington, DC — At a press conference today, Senator Tom Harkin(D-IA), Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), and a bipartisan Senate coalition today called upon Senate leadership to immediately take up the Specter-Harkin Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (S. 471.) This legislation is designed to expand the current federal funding for ethical and lifesaving stem cell research. This legislation was introduced because the President’s policy mandates the use of only 22 currently available stem cell lines that are contaminated with mouse cells, rendering them dangerous for use in humans.

The Specter-Harkin Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (S. 471) is identical to a bill which passed with an overwhelming bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives yesterday afternoon.

“Today, the House sponsors have come to the Senate to symbolically pass the baton to Senator Specter and me and the other cosponsors of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. It is our job to carry this bill in the last leg of the race. We accept the challenge and responsibility. And we intend to win this race,” Harkin said. “Make no mistake: for millions of Americans with potentially curable or treatable diseases – including Parkinson’s, juvenile diabetes, and ALS — this is a race. They can’t wait any longer for our top scientists to realize the full potential of stem cell research.”

The Specter-Harkin Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act is designed to expand the current federal funding policy for stem cell research. The legislation would allow federal funding for stem cell research using stem cell lines derived under strict ethical requirements from excess in vitro fertilization embryos, regardless of the date they were derived.

All 22 stem cell lines currently available under the President’s policy are contaminated with mouse cells, making them dangerous to use in humans. Since August 2001, scientists have made great advances in deriving stem cell lines. Many of the new lines were grown without mouse feeder cells. None of the additional lines would require the creation of new embryos. Instead, these lines could be derived from any of the more than 400,000 embryos that are left over from fertility treatments – embryos that would otherwise be discarded.

“We don’t require our astronomers to explore the heavens with 19th century telescopes, and we don’t require our geologists to study the Earth with a tape measure. If we are serious about realizing the promise of stem cell research, our biomedical researchers need access to the best stem cell lines available,” Harkin said. “The President’s approach is not a way forward; it is a dead end. It offers only false hope to people with potentially curable or treatable diseases. We need a policy that offers real hope to these patients and their loved ones. Our task in the Senate is to pass the exact same bill as the House, without amendments, so we can send it to the President’s desk without delay.”

The Senators also wrote a letter yesterday to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) asking him to bring the legislation to the floor for consideration without amendment as soon as possible. Other original co-sponsors of the legislation include: Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Gordon H. Smith (R-OR), and Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA).

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