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WASHINGTON (AP) – Scientists must be free to study stem cells from all sources – including living human embryos – to discover the full potential of the cells to treat disease, says a federal report requested by the Bush administration.

President Bush is weighing whether to allow federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, which is opposed by some because isolating the cells requires the death of a human embryo. Bush asked the federal researchers for more information on the issue, but the confidential report from the National Institutes of Health does not make a recommendation one way or the other on federal funding.

The report, to be released Wednesday at a congressional hearing, focuses on the science.

An executive summary, obtained by The Associated Press, says embryonic stem cells have the ability to develop into all types of cells and tissue, a flexibility that may be lacking in so-called “adult” stem cells taken from mature tissue. However, the report concludes, “the answers clearly lie in conducting more research.”

The White House received a copy of the report Tuesday from federal officials, said presidential spokesman Scott McClellan.

“The report is one component of the scientific, ethical and legal issues involved,” McClellan said. “The president intends to look at it in that context.”

Both opponents and supporters of embryonic stem cell research held up the report as evidence of their arguments.

The study “clearly presents adult stem cells as a legitimate alternative with great future potential,” said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., an abortion foe who opposes federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

To Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the report says that in some cases, “embryonic stem cells are more promising than adult stem cells.”

Scientists believe they can learn to direct the development of embryonic stem cells in order to grow mature cells or tissues that could be used to treat disease. Some estimate that stem cells could benefit more than 100 million patients with such disorders as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and spinal cord injuries.

Opponents of the research believe embryos should not be killed, even for the treatment of disease. Instead, they favor research using the adult stem cells, which are taken from mature organs and then manipulated in the lab.

The federal report made distinctions among the types of stem cells. For example, it discussed the differences between cells extracted from fetuses and from embryos. Embryonic germ cells, taken from the developing reproductive areas of a fetus, are described as being similar to the embryonic stem cells.

A consistent theme of the report is that more research is needed before any firm, scientific conclusion can be reached on the relative medical value of the stem cell types.

“During the next several years, it will be important to compare embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells in terms of their ability to proliferate, differentiate, survive and function after transplant, and avoid immune rejection,” said the report.

The NIH prepared the report in June at the request of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. An HHS spokesman, Bill Pierce, said the report had not been released beyond the HHS, not even to the White House.

Some members of Congress, representing both political parties, discussed the report at a hearing on Tuesday and at a news event featuring families afflicted by deadly diseases.

“Life begins in the womb of a mother, not in a petri dish; pro-life means helping people live,” Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., told the cheering crowd.

Daphne Thomas, a Sterling, Va., doctor, described how embryonic stem cells might help her daughter Alyssa, who suffers from Rett syndrome, a neurological disease.

“She walks with difficulty. She falls easily. She can’t color with crayons like other 4-year-olds,” said Thomas.

The event was the latest in a string of public events aimed at putting political pressure on the president. White House aides said Tuesday the president’s decision is still pending. Bush is in Europe for an economic summit.

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