President Obama is expected to lift the ban on stem cell research March 9. Scientists say Stem Cell Shift Will Speed Hunt for Cures.

President Barack Obama’s expected reversal of an 8-year-old restriction on U.S. funding for embryonic stem cell research has excited scientists and health advocates who say the action will accelerate the search for cures to major illness. Bush objected to the use of the tissue because the process caused the destruction of human embryos.

The change will free federally backed scientists to work with hundreds of newer cell colonies that have been off-limits under Bush’s order, including some that carry genetic mutations causing diseases such as juvenile diabetes and Huntington’s. If scientists can study these cells using U.S. government funding, it will speed research into those conditions, said Larry Soler, executive vice president of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

The expected shift will “update the current policy, which has been frozen in place since 2001 and allow broad use of new technologies discovered over the last eight years,” Soler said yesterday in a telephone interview. “For 30 million Americans with some form of diabetes, stem cell research offers a possibility to develop new treatments.”

Bush allowed government support only for cell colonies made from embryos before August 9, 2001. Just 21 such colonies are available today to researchers, while hundreds of newer lines can be used only by researchers funded from private sources.

House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio said research advances allowing adult skin cells to be turned into so-called pluripotent stem cells with powers similar to those from embryos makes federal support for embryonic cells unnecessary.

“Republicans enthusiastically support adult, cord blood, and pluripotent stem cell research that have shown so much promise in recent years,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “The question is whether taxpayer dollars should be used to subsidize the destruction of precious human life. Millions of Americans strongly oppose that, and rightfully so.”

Obama’s policy will encourage investment into stem cell companies, said Michael West, the founder and former chief executive of Geron Corp., the first company to use human embryonic stem cells after they were discovered in 1996.

The news sent shares of the stem cell companies higher. Geron, based in Menlo Park, California, gained $1.51, or 39 percent, to $5.38 and StemCells Inc. of Palo Alto, California, rose 91 cents, or 66 percent, to $1.38 in extended trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

The timing of Obama’s announcement couldn’t be better, said Arnold Kriegstein, director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. It comes just days after the National Institutes of Health began requesting proposals for research projects using some of the $10 billion it was awarded from the from the economic stimulus package passed by Congress, Kriegstein said.

Obama Half Right

I support stem cell research. I just do not believe taxpayers should pay for it. Bush’s position is completely untenable, allowing research from embryos before August 9, 2001. How can that possibly make any sense?

House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio misses the boat totally when he says “The question is whether taxpayer dollars should be used to subsidize the destruction of precious human life. Millions of Americans strongly oppose that, and rightfully so.”

Millions might oppose it for religious beliefs, but religion and politics are best not mixed. Moreover, embryo research does not destroy human life. A mass cells expanding in a test tube is not “human life”.

At any rate, Obama is 1/2 half right. That is more than we ever saw from Bush on any major issue.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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