Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Obama to lift stem cell limits

WASHINGTON — Fulfilling a key campaign promise to upend a signature policy of the Bush administration, President Obama is poised to lift restrictions on using taxpayer dollars for research that many scientists believe holds the key to treating some of mankind's most debilitating afflictions.

Lobbyists for advocacy and research groups, as well as congressional staffers, said they expect Obama to sign an executive order Monday at the White House that would allow researchers to apply for National Institutes of Health grants for embryonic stem cell research.

"We're certainly hearing a lot of talk in our community, so I have every expectation that is the case," said Amy Comstock Rick, CEO of the Parkinson's Action Network and president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, which was formed to reverse President George W. Bush's restrictions.

Under the restrictions that Bush implemented in August 2001, taxpayer money can be used to pay for research on only a small number of existing embryonic stem cell lines.

Many scientific experts say they believe stem cells, the building blocks of life, can be manipulated to replace damaged tissue throughout the body. Embryonic stem cells are believed to hold the most promise. Scientists hope to harness them so they can create replacement tissues to treat a variety of diseases — such as new insulin-producing cells for diabetics, cells that could help those with Parkinson's disease or maybe even Alzheimer's, or new nerve connections to restore movement after spinal injury.

"I feel vindicated after eight years of struggle, and I know it's going to energize my research team," said Dr. George Daley of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Children's Hospital of Boston, a leading stem cell researcher.

But harvesting stem cells has created controversy because the embryo is destroyed in a process many people equate to abortion.

Bush restricted research to stem cell lines that were created before Aug. 9, 2001. But scientists argued these lines were of poorer quality, limiting their research value.

Congress twice passed bills to permit funding of stem cell research using unused embryos at in vitro fertilization clinics, but Bush vetoed them. During the presidential campaign, then-Sen. Obama promised to reverse the ban, and advocates for the research have been wondering what's taking so long.

"America's biomedical research enterprise experienced steady decline over the past eight years, with shrinking budgets and policies that elevated ideology over science. This slowed the pace of discovery and the search for cures," said Sean Morrison, director of the University of Michigan's Center for Stem Cell Biology.

Critics denounced the expected move.

"Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for experiments that require the destruction of human life," said Tony Perkins of the conservative Family Research Council. "President Obama's policy change is especially troubling given the significant adult stem cell advances that are being used to treat patients now without harming or destroying human embryos."

The executive order would bring one immediate change: As of Monday, scientists who have had to meticulously keep separate their federally funded research and their privately funded stem cell work — from buying separate microscopes to even setting up labs in different buildings — would not have that expensive hurdle anymore.

Scientists may soon be able to apply for grants from the National Institutes of Health. The NIH has begun writing guidelines that, among other things, are expected to demand that the cells being used were derived with proper informed consent from the woman or couple who donated the original embryo.

Congress is expected to consider bipartisan legislation this year to guarantee NIH funding for the research.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Some areas where stem cells may one day prove of value, although all the research is in very early stages:

• Geron Corp. will start the world's first study of a treatment based on human embryonic stem cells this summer, a project aimed at patients recently paralyzed by spinal cord injuries.

• Scientists are working to create insulin-producing cells for diabetics, and cells that could produce the brain chemical needed by Parkinson's disease patients.

• Last year, researchers used human embryonic stem cells to create cells that act — in lab tests — like natural red blood cells, offering the potential to one day ramp up the blood supply.

Obama to lift stem cell limits 03/06/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 12, 2009 8:42am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa Heights project gets $21.5 million in funding

    Real Estate

    TAMPA --- The Tampa-based Heights Community Development District got a financial boost from a $21.5 million tax-exempt bond issue to fund the waterfront community being built along the Hillsborough River just north of downtown Tampa. Proceeds from the bond issue are expected to used for new roads, sidewalks, the Tampa …

    Tampa's Heights Community Development District got a financial boost from a $21.5 million tax-exempt bond issue to fund the waterfront community being built along the Hillsborough River just north of downtown Tampa.
[Courtesy of Aerial Innovations, Inc.]
  2. Toledo feels like a second season opener for Miami Hurricanes


    LAKE BUENA VISTA - The schedule says Week 4, but it sure doesn't feel that way for the No. 14 Miami Hurricanes.

    The Miami Hurricanes suit up for practice Tuesday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex
  3. Top 5 at noon: Trump threatens 'total destruction' of North Korea; Irma's death toll in Florida rises to 42, but will grow; and more


    Here are the latest headlines and updates on

    U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, Tuesday in New York City. [Getty Images]
  4. Key performances and a sizzling script elevate Heather Theatre's 'Disgraced'


    TAMPA — When you step into the world of Disgraced, Ayad Akhtar's taut drama centered on two couples at a Manhattan dinner party, you never feel secure about where you sit. No one really can.

    The cast of Disgraced, Ayah Akhtar's Pulitzer-winning play at the Heather Theatre, includes (from left) Peter Alexander Kostis, Lynn Single, Shrey Neil, and Krystal Nicole Watts. Photo courtesy of the Heather.
  5. 10 National Monuments the Interior Department Wants to Shrink or Modify


    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has proposed that President Donald Trump make changes to 10 national monuments, including Bears Ears in southern Utah, according to a memo addressed to the White House.