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SINGAPORE - A Harvard University scientist driven by personal tragedy to find a diabetes cure has created 17 new stem cell lines that he will make freely available to researchers next year, he said Thursday.
Douglas Melton, a Harvard biology professor and the father of two children battling insulin-dependent diabetes, said he developed the fresh stem cell lines for his own use and for the research community in the hope that they could help advance stem cell research.
Because stem cells can develop into any body tissue, scientists say they may hold out hope for one day being able to treat a variety of diseases from Parkinson's to diabetes to spinal cord injuries.
Funding for the new stem cell lines, which were derived from embryos discarded from fertility clinics, was provided by the New York-based Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International and The Howard Hughes Institute, a Maryland-based nonprofit medical research organization, Melton said.
Melton said he plans to publish details about the new stem cell lines in a week or two and will make them available to researchers by early 2004.
Progress in the controversial field of stem cell research has been hampered in the United States by legislation that limits federally funded work on stem cells to a small number of cell lines that were created before April 9, 2001.
President Bush announced the restrictions in 2001, and has also called for a ban on human cloning - both reproductive cloning to make babies and the cloning of embryos solely to cull stem cells for medical research.
Because isolating stem cells for research involves the destruction of embryos, it has become a new frontier in the international debate over reproduction and the beginning of human life.
"We made them for our use and to share with the research community," Melton said on the sidelines of Singapore's inaugural International Stem Cell Conference, where he was an invited speaker.
Melton said he hopes stem cells can one day be coaxed into becoming insulin-producing cells that can be grafted into diabetics for a permanent cure.