Leading US research institutions may stop studying several federally-fundable embryonic stem cell lines due to potential ethical problems surrounding the creation of the lines.

As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education today (July 28), Stanford and Johns Hopkins Universities, and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) are considering halting or have halted research on five of the 21 human stem cell lines approved to receive federal funding.

University of Wisconsin bioethicist Robert Streiffer called the five lines into question in an article he wrote in the May-June issue of the Hastings Center Report. In the article, Streiffer wrote that some embryonic stem cell donors were improperly informed before donating their cells. For example, Streiffer wrote that in at least one case, the consent forms that donors signed "states that the project in which the embryo donors were participating was limited to developing a technique for longer-term cultivation of embryonic cells, and that after the study was completed all the cells would be destroyed." In light of the ethical problems, Strieffer called for the Bush Administration's restrictions on stem cell research funding to be overturned.

According to The Chronicle story, citing a report by the Center for American Progress, expert panels at Johns Hopkins and Stanford have already decided to stop research on the five contested cell lines, but officials at Stanford told The Chronicle that the report was "inaccurate" and that the no final decision has yet been made. A spokesman from CIRM told The Chronicle that the institute is deciding whether or not to refer the issue to its ethics board.