Posted on Mar 09, 2009, 10 a.m.
By gary clark
Researchers are "delighted" that today, the Obama Administration is expected to lift eight years of restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. However, it may be months before actual research work can begin.
Soon after President George W. Bush took office in 2001, he restricted the use of federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research because extracting the cells required that days-old embryos to be destroyed. While a few institutions - for example, Harvard and Stanford universities - set up independent operations so that researchers could legally work with stem cells, most researchers were unable to move forward using the few batches of legally available stem cells. President Obama's decision to lift Bush's restrictions on federal funding - expected to be announced today - will enable thousands of scientists to study hundreds of lines of cells that have been developed, but not available for research due to past restrictions.
Researchers acknowledged that because the National Institutes of Health will need to prepare detailed guidelines on when and how federal dollars can be spent, it will be months before research work can begin in earnest. Despite this, they are delighted. "Hallelujah! This marks the end of a long and repressive chapter in scientific history. It's the stem-cell 'emancipation proclamation'," says Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology.
Stem cells that are taken from early embryos are believed to have the ability to change into any type of tissue in the body, potentially helping scientists gain key insights into the underlying causes of many diseases. Researchers have already been working with stem cells to repair spinal cords, regenerate brain cells destroyed by Parkinson's and to help restore tissue destroyed by juvenile diabetes.
Dr. Douglas Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, notes that while the process of getting federal funding is time-consuming, his group will seek federal support along with other sources of research dollars. "The removal of this barrier that has stood in our way for eight years will open important new areas of research, and help in moving the field forward more rapidly," Dr. Melton says. And says Amy Comstock Rick of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, which lobbied to lift the restrictions: "This is huge. It is eight years overdue to have human embryonic stem cell research put back in place with other forms of research for patients in this country."
News Release: U.S. stem cell announcement only a first step www.reuters.com March 8, 2009
News Release: Obama to loosen stem cell funding www.washingtonpost.com March 7, 2009