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Obama Reverses Federal Policy on Funding for Stem Cell Research

On March 9, 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 regarding hESC research allows the National Institutes of Health to fund research on stem cell lines that have been developed since 2001.  The previous order signed by President Bush had limited federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research to lines developed before August 9, 2001.  These lines turned out to be far fewer than the 21 originally thought to be available.  Additionally, the funding restrictions imposed by the order essentially required institutions performing embryonic stem cell research to house those projects in separate facilities, using separate equipment, from research funded by the government — creating a burden in terms of cost, logistics and liability. 

Medical researchers see promise in stem cells because of their ability to become any type of cell in the body.  They foresee manipulating stem cells to create specialized cells that may be used to study diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, and hope in the future, to use these cells to replace the cells or tissue damaged by those diseases.  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.  The hESCs used for research are derived from embryos that were made for in vitro fertilization, but would otherwise be discarded.

Amy Comstock Rick, President of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (which PDF supports) and Chief Executive Officer of the Parkinson’s Action Network, said of this development, “President Obama has ensured that Americans are no longer forced to look back at what could have been, but can instead look forward to one day seeing the promise of scientific and medical research fulfilled.”