President Obama Names Bioethics Commission Members

In April, President Obama announced his appointments to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. The 10 new members will join the current Chair, Amy Gutmann, and Vice-Chair, James Wagner, as Members on the  Commission when the Commission has its fi rst meeting this month. In order to keep the Commission’s work practical, a few federal employees were included in the 10 new members. Other members have backgrounds in ethics, philosophy, law,  science, and medicine.

The Commission will advise the President on bioethical issues that may emerge from advances in biomedicine and  related areas of science and technology. The Commission will also work to identify and promote policies and practices  that ensure scientific research, healthcare delivery, and technological innovation are conducted in an ethically  responsible manner. The Commission replaces the President’s Council on Bioethics that President Obama disbanded last summer. To see the new members or learn more about the Commission, go to http://www.bioethics.gov.

Key Stem Cell Lines Approved for Federal Funding

In April, the National Institutes of Health announced that 13 additional lines of human embryonic stem cells are eligible for federal funding, including the most widely used line that was one of the only 21 acceptable to federal funding by President George W. Bush.

The federal approval includes nine lines that are eligible for federal funding for the first time and four that have been used for many years, known as H7, H9, H13 and H14. H9 is the line most widely used by researchers.

The announcement lifted concerns of some in the research community that the new stem cell policy meant to improve human embryonic stem cell research was actually hindering it. The lines originally approved by President Bush for federal funding had to be vetted to ensure that they met the new ethic requirements, including making sure couples who donated embryos were fully informed of their options.

America Competes Act Passes House

While the original passage of the America Competes Act received wide bipartisan support in 2007, the reauthorization of the legislation turned into a political battle. The House finally passed the Reauthorization bill, H.R. 5116, on its third trip to the fl oor by a vote of 262 to 150.

After failing earlier in the month, Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) stated in a press release, “I’m disappointed, but not deterred. As I’ve said before, this bill is too important to let fall by the way-side. More than half of our economic growth since World War II can be directly attributed to development and adoption of new technologies. Th e path is simple: research leads to innovation; innovation leads to economic development and good paying jobs. Creating good jobs is the goal of this bill, and it is what our country needs right now.”

Republican House members, led by Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX), contended that the bill was too expensive and  included unnecessary programs.

Over 750 organizations endorsed reauthorization of COMPETES, including the Biophysical Society.

The bill has yet to be considered by the Senate. It was unclear at press time when that might take place. Gordon is retiring at the end of this term and one of his major goals is to pass this reauthorization before he steps down.

NIH Champions Obey and Specter to Leave Congress

Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, David Obey (D-WI) announced that he plans to retire at the end of this Congress in January. Senator Arlene Specter (D-PA), after switching parties last year, lost the Democratic primary to Congressman Joe Sestak (D-PA) in May, and will not be on the ballot in November. Both Obey and Specter have been champions of the National Institutes of Health and biomedical research over the past 42 and 30 years, respectively. Th e biomedical community will be hard pressed to fi nd new champions within Congress as passionate about biomedical
research as Obey and Specter have been.

July 2010 Table of Contents