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Home>>Sci-Edu >> Biotechnology
08:15, March 10, 2009

Obama lifts limit on embryonic stem cell research, scientists hail

U.S. President Barack Obama signs an Executive Order on stem cells research in the East Room of the White House in Washington, the United States of America, March 9, 2009. (Xinhua/Zhang Yan)

U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday issued an executive order that allows federal money to fund expanded embryonic stem cell research, which scientists say is "a great advance for science in general and America in particular."

Before signing the order, Obama said he was ending what he believed was "a false choice between sound science and moral values." The president vowed that the U.S. government "will vigorously support scientists who pursue this research," and "will aim for America to lead the world in the discoveries it one day may yield."

The majority of Americans -- from across the political spectrum, and of all backgrounds and beliefs -- have come to a consensus that we should pursue this research, the president said.

"That the potential it offers is great, and with proper guidelines and strict oversight, the perils can be avoided," he noted.

He called on Congress to provide the needed funding even as he asserted the order would never allow human cloning.

"We will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction," he said in the White House ceremony where he was joined by scientists and other supports of the research." It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society."

The decision was a clear repudiation of the approach taken by Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush. U.S. law limits the use of federal money to make human stem cells, but Bush tightened the restrictions even further to include work using such cells.

In 2001, former President George W. Bush limited federal funding for stem cell research only to human embryonic stem cell lines that already existed. It was a gesture to his conservative Christian supporters who regard embryonic stem cell research as destroying potential life, because the cells must be extracted from human embryos, which they view as human life. Stem cell researchers say that policy held back scientific advances and the development of cures.

Bush's decision prompted charges that he was basing his decision on politics and religion rather than science. Religious conservatives who supported Bush generally opposed embryonic stem cell research because it involves destruction of embryos.

Obama rejected that view. "As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research -- and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly."

U.S. President Barack Obama signs an Executive Order on stem cells research in the East Room of the White House in Washington, the United States of America, March 9, 2009. (Xinhua/Zhang Yan)

"President Obama's executive order signals a new day in which science policy will be based on science and in which the federal government can invest in the best ideas with the greatest potential to improve public health. America will once again seek to be the world's engine for biomedical discovery," Sean J. Morrison told Xinhua in an email, who is the director of Center for Stem Cell Biology in the University of Michigan.

George Daley of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Children's Hospital of Boston, a leading stem cell researcher, also told Xinhua that the stem cell research community applaud the decision." It will make more tools available to us to investigate the origins of disease, and will lay a foundation for finding new drugs and delivering cells as medicines. As funding is the lifeblood of our research, the president's decision will now allow us to compete for federal dollars, which will jump-start our research program."

"With the new policy, I expect the U.S. to move ever faster towards leading the world in stem cell research."

"This will definitely boost stem cell research -- not only in the US, but worldwide. This is a new era for stem cell research. It not only impacts research in the laboratory, but even more importantly, it finally lifts the black cloud that has hovered over this research for so long," said Robert Lanza, Chief Scientific Officer of Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology, a stem cell company. He told Xinhua that the president's decision will also help jump-start investment in the private sector as well.

"I view reversal of the Bush Administration's 2001 policy as an essential step to maximize the efficiency of bringing embryonic stem cell therapies to the clinic," said David Goldhamer, director of Center for Regenerative Biology in the University of Connecticut.

"There is no question that this will boost U.S. research in embryonic stem cells."

Though Obama signed the order, laws are still on the books that limit the use of federal money to actually make the powerful stem cells, because they must be taken from human embryos. So federal research money can be used only to work with cells that were made using other sources of funds.

Embryonic stem cells are cells contained in embryos that have the ability to transform themselves into virtually any other type of cell in the body. They are called pluripotent. It is this quality that enables the tiny embryo to develop into a fully formed body. About five days after fertilization, the human embryo becomes a blastocyst -- a hollow sphere of about 100 cells. Cells in its outer layer go on to form the placenta and other organs needed to support fetal development in the uterus. The inner cellsgo on to form nearly all of the tissues of the body. These are the embryonic stem cells used in research.

Scientists believe that stem cell research could eventually produce cures for a variety of diseases, including Parkinson's disease, diabetes, heart disease and spinal cord injuries.


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