Grant applications for research on embryos, fetuses and in vitrofertilization started flowing into the National Institutes ofHealth last summer after Congress killed a federal regulationthat required such experiments to be reviewed by an ethicsadvisory board. NIH's board was disbanded in 1980 and theagency has not funded embryo research since.

Without specific guidelines, NIH has been uncomfortable inproceeding to fund this research, Duane Alexander, director ofthe National Institute of Child Health and Development, toldBioWorld. So NIH established a subcommittee of the AdvisoryCommittee to the Director to explore legal, moral and ethicalissues and advise NIH on which areas of research areacceptable, not acceptable, or need further review prior tofunding decisions being made.

Last week the committee held its first of three or four meetingsthat will culminate in a report to the NIH director next July.

Committee member Lori Andrews, a visiting professor at Kent-Chicago College of Law, recommended that NIH review existingstate laws before formulating funding guidelines for embryoand fetal research. Specifically, she said, NIH should considerstate laws that address previous animal research, informedconsent, the purpose of the research, the stage of developmentof the embryo, whether the embryo is intended to go to termand the level of risk to the embryo or resulting child.

Andrews noted that 25 states have laws covering fetal researchand a few states govern the risk research poses to the embryo.(A developing human is considered an embryo prior to 8 weeksgestation and a fetus thereafter). Some state laws encompassboth fetal and embryo research. Andrews said some lawsprohibit harming the fetus and some distinguish therapeuticresearch for the fetus from non-therapeutic research. Ninestates ban basic scientific studies on the embryo and fetus.

Andrews said fetal gene therapy probably would be permittedeven in states with restrictive laws, since its goal is to benefitthe health of the child. However, she noted that two states doprohibit such research.

-- David Holzman Washington Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.