A Green Light for Science ObamaAEs Stem-Cell Policy Signals Research Freedom

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), March 10, 2009 | Go to article overview

A Green Light for Science ObamaAEs Stem-Cell Policy Signals Research Freedom


Byline: Seth Borenstein and Ben Feller Associated Press Writers

WASHINGTON u Science nerds returned to the White House Monday, triumphant and ready to tinker.

After years of complaining about being shoved into the politics version of their school lockers, smiling scientists crowded into the ornate East Room, took cell phone photos and got a message from President Barack Obama they said was clear: Science, which once propelled men to the moon, again matters in American life.

Specifically, Obama abolished contentious Bush-era restraints on federally funded stem-cell research and issued a new memo that encourages more open scientific discussion without political interference.

"Our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values," Obama declared as he signed documents changing U.S. science policy and removing what some researchers have said were shackles on their work.

"It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda u and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology," Obama said.

There were more scientists in the White House than Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, had seen in his 30 years in Washington. "More happy scientists than IAEve seen," he added.

Opponents saw it differently: a defeat for morality in the most basic questions of life and death.

"The action by the president today will, in effect, allow scientists to create their own guidelines without proper moral restraints," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

The most immediate effect will allow federally funded researchers to use hundreds of new embryonic stem cell lines for promising u but

still long-range u research in hopes of creating better treatments, possibly even cures, for conditions ranging from diabetes to paralysis. Until now, those researchers had to limit themselves to just 21 stem cell lines created before August 2001, when President George W. Bush limited funding because of "fundamental questions about the beginnings of life and the ends of science."

DonAEt expect stem cell cures or treatments anytime soon. One company this summer will begin the worldAEs first study of a treatment using human embryonic stem cells, in people who recently suffered spinal cord injuries. Research institutions on Monday were gearing up to ask for more freely flowing federal money, and the National Institutes of Health was creating guidelines on how to hand it out and include ethical constraints. It will be months before the stem cell money flows; the average NIH stem cell grant is $1.5 million spread out over four years.

Scientists focused on a new sense of freedom.

"I think patients everywhere will be cheering us on, imploring us to work faster, harder and with all of our ability to find new treatments," said Harvard Stem Cell Institute co-director Doug Melton, father of two children with Type I diabetes that could possibly be treated with stem cells. "On a personal level, it is an enormous relief and a time for celebration. ... Science thrives when there is an open and collaborative exchange, not when there are artificial barriers, silos, constructed by the government."

Opponents framed their opposition mostly, but not exclusively, on morality grounds and the scientifically contested claims that adult stem cells work just as well. …

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