On Wednesday, December 2, 2009, NIH Director Francis Collins announced that 13 human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines are now approved for federally funded research. Another 27 lines are currently under review. These are the first hESC lines to be approved since the NIH adopted its Guidelines for Human Stem Cell Research in July. Thirty-one NIH hESC grants—including several NHLBI-funded grants—have been on hold, waiting for cell lines to be approved for use. Some of the studies are now able to move forward.
Although we are only beginning to understand stem cell differentiation, hESC studies may reveal fundamental insights into human development, improve drug safety testing, and potentially treat a spectrum of diseases and conditions, including those affecting the heart, lungs, and blood. Dr. Collins cited one of the pending NHLBI studies during his December 2 news conference; it aims to regenerate heart muscle cells after a heart attack or other damage or disease.
Dr. Collins said he hopes this will be the start of a series of approvals of human embryonic stem cell lines. Sixty-eight additional lines have already been submitted to the NIH for review, and at least another 100 applications are expected to pour in.
I encourage NHLBI grantees to check the list of approved lines in the NIH registry. If a registry line is appropriate for their research, grantees should obtain permission from the line provider and notify the NIH before proceeding with their projects.