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Obama pressed to reverse Bush stem cell restrictions

WASHINGTON — Scientists and lawmakers who thought electing Barack Obama to the White House would jump-start embryonic stem cell research want to know what's taking so long.

A month into Obama's presidency, members of Congress and advocates for research into scores of debilitating diseases say they are disappointed he has yet to overturn President Bush's restrictions and they are urging him to act.

"Time matters, and we would really like to see an executive order out of the White House rescinding the Bush policy," said Amy Comstock Rick, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, which represents advocacy groups for a wide range of diseases. "We certainly believe the campaign commitment still, but are confused by the delay."

CAMR has asked its members to call and e-mail the White House to urge action, and on Thursday a group of moderate Republicans in the U.S. House sent Obama a letter asking him to act swiftly.

As a candidate, Obama promised to overturn Bush's order.

"The president has made it clear that increasing stem cell research is a priority for his administration, and he'll be acting soon to reverse restrictions on this critical science," White House spokeswoman Gannet Tseggai said Thursday.

Research suggests that embryonic stem cells, the building blocks of life, can be manipulated to replace tissue damaged by injury or disease. Although stem cells can be teased from skin, umbilical cord blood and other organs, many scientists believe embryonic stem cells are the most malleable and hold the most promise for treating a variety of ills, including spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer's disease and diabetes.

But harvesting stem cells kills the embryo. Opponents equate that to abortion and say taxpayers should not be asked to fund it.

Seeking a compromise, in August 2001 President Bush restricted federal funding to research on embryonic stem cell lines that already existed at the time. Their numbers are few, however, and most are no longer in good shape.

Congress twice passed a bill overturning Bush's policy, but Bush vetoed it both times.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, a leading proponent of embryonic stem cell research, said recently he was planning to file a bill that would specifically allow funding for human embryonic stem cell research. Similar legislation is expected in the House.

Wes Allison can be reached at allison@sptimes.com or (202) 463-0577.

Obama pressed to reverse Bush stem cell restrictions 02/19/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 10:40am]

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