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Science News

PDF Statement on President Obama's Stem Cell Policy Reversal

Today, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to expand the use of federal funding for embryonic stem cell (hESC) research, overturning restrictions put in place by President Bush in 2001.

President Obama’s order allows the National Institutes of Health to fund research on stem cell lines that have been developed since 2001.  The previous order had limited federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research to lines developed before August 9, 2001.  These lines had turned out to be fewer than originally thought and the funding restrictions essentially required institutions to house stem cell research in separate facilities, using separate equipment, from research funded by the government — creating a burden for institutions in terms of cost, logistics and liability.

In his address, President Obama mentioned the potential of stem cells.  Researchers see such promise in stem cells because of their ability to become any type of cell in the body.  Researchers foresee manipulating stem cells to create specialized cells that may be used to replace the cells or tissue damaged or destroyed by diseases such as Parkinson’s, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.  In the case of Parkinson’s, this would entail manipulating stem cells into dopamine-producing neurons and using these to replace the cells that are lost in PD.

PDF’s Executive Director, Robin Elliott, said of this development, “President Obama's decisive action reopens an important door to the efforts of US scientists to find cures for diseases, such as Parkinson's.  The world will welcome it.”

To learn more about this development, please read the article below from the Washington Post. To learn more about stem cell research, read two previous articles on the topic now on PDF's website:

 

Obama Ends Ban on Federal Funding for Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Memo to Keep Politics Out of Government Science Accompanies Stem Cell Action
By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 9, 2009; 11:53 AM

President Obama lifted restrictions on funding for human embryonic stem cell research this morning and issued a presidential memorandum aimed at insulating scientific decisions across the federal government from political influence.

Obama took care to emphasize that the order would not "open the door" to allow human cloning, which he said is "dangerous, profoundly wrong and has no place in our society, or any society." But the president said stem cell research has enormous potential to further understanding and treatment of many devastating diseases and conditions. America, he said, should play a leading role in exploring the stem-cell research frontier.

"In recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values," Obama said, according to his prepared remarks. "In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent . . . We should pursue this research . . . The potential it offers is great, and with proper guidelines and strict oversight the perils can be avoided."

The decision by President George W. Bush to restrict funding for stem cell research has been seen by critics as part of a pattern of allowing political ideology to influence scientific decisions across an array of issues, including climate change and whether to approve the morning-after pill Plan B for over-the-counter sales.

"We view what happened with stem cell research in the last administration as one manifestation of failure to think carefully about how federal support of science and the use of scientific advice occurs," said Harold Varmus,who co-chairs Obama's Council of Advisorstwp on Science and Technology and participated in a briefing for reporters yesterday "This is consistent with the president's determination to use sound scientific practice. . . instead of dogma in developing federal policy."

The presidential memorandum orders the Office of Science and Technology Policy to "develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision making," Obama said.

Obama said the memorandum is intended to ensure "that in this new administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisors based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology, and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions."

The stem cell executive order overturns a restriction Bush put in place on Aug. 9, 2001, limiting federal funding to what turned out to be 21 cell lines already in existence on that date.

Because of their ability to become any type of cell in the body, many scientists believe human embryonic stem cells could lead to new therapies for many diseases, including diabetes, Parkinson's disease and paralysis. But the research is highly controversial because the cells are obtained by destroying embryos, a procedure some consider to be immoral.

On Friday, officials confirmed that Obama would fulfill a longtime promise to lift those restrictions today, thrilling supporters but stirring intense criticism from opponents, who argue that there are alternative approaches free from ethical concerns.

As supporters had hoped, Obama's order came without any caveats and left the details to be worked out by the National Institutes of Health, which will have 120 days to develop guidelines that will be used to vet requests for federal funding for research. The guidelines will address a host of thorny ethical issues raised by such research, such as how to obtain proper consent from donors of embryos used to obtain the cells.

"As a result of lifting those limitations, the president is in effect allowing federal funding of embryonic stem research to the extent it's permitted by federal law -- that is work with stem cells themselves, not the derivation of those stem cells," Varmus said.

Obama does not intend to call for the repeal of the Dickey-Wicker amendment, which bars the use of federal funds to conduct research on embryos directly.

"Congress will have to make a determination about how they want to deal with that," Barnes said.

Source Date: Mar 09 2009
Source Publication: Washington Post
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