Dickey-Wicker Possible Sticky Wicket

At last, a breath of fresh air for biomedical science, the removal of Bush administration federal financing restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. 


With a flourish and a strong speech, President Obama opened the door to allow researchers using federal support to study more than the twenty-two ESC lines that had been created before August 9, 2001. 

Since that date, dozens of  new lines have been established through private funds, and these include cell lines more easily maintained, easier to access and perhaps with greater potential for exploring clinical applications.

Thus, after eight long, long years, the gangly, unwanted child  is allowed out of the attic to sit in the sunlit parlor again. Now it’s up to Congress to allow the wunderkind to stretch her legs fully.  

But crowding the parlor is a not so small elephant known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.  Named for its authors, Rep. Jay Dickey, Republican of Arkansas, and Rep.  Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, the amendment bans use of  federal funds for any experiment in which an embryo is either created or destroyed, the latter happening when stem cells are extracted.

Each year since 1996, Congress has voted to attach this rider to the Department of Health and Human Services appropriations bill.  And it still bans  federal funding for some important ESC work, including studies aimed at enhancing  knowledge of pathogenesis.

Does our new president expect Congress to alter the amendment? Is there enough unflappable support to do so? In the new law he signed a few days ago, one might find a hint: 

“Sec. 2.  Research.  The Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary), through the Director of NIH, may support and conduct responsible, scientifically worthy human stem cell research, including human embryonic stem cell research, to the extent permitted by law. ” (Italics mine.)

Hmmm.  Could be a nice way of asking Congress to change the darn thing, for good.  The child would certainly breathe easier and thrive.

Les Lang

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