After the great fall of George W Bush, critics find it a ray of hope for stem cell research in the USA. President-elect Barack Obama is expected to lift restrictions on federal money for such research.
Under President George W. Bush, federal money for research on human embryonic stems cells was limited to those stem cell lines, or families of constantly dividing cells, that were created before Aug. 9, 2001. No federal dollars could be used on research with cell lines from embryos destroyed from that point forward. Federal regulations do not restrict embryonic stem cell research using state or private funds.
However, stem cell research goes can not exist without controversy.
Opponents of such research say they will press their case on several fronts.The main argument is that life begins at conception — that once fertilization occurred in the lab, so did a human being.
Secondly, they will argue that scientists are having success using other methods — adult stem cells that form specific tissues, or reprogramming skin cells to act like stem cells — so money should be directed where the biggest scientific breakthroughs have occurred. For example, this past week, doctors gave a woman a new windpipe with tissue grown from her own stem cells, eliminating the need for anti-rejection drugs.
But Sean Tipton, director of public affairs at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, took aim at those arguments. Tipton said,
“It’s a little disingenuous for opponents who have effectively blocked federal funding of the work to then cite a lack of progress. You hold someone at the starting line then you criticize them for not getting very far.”
Dr. Chi Dang, professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, agreed there have been tremendous advances with adult stem cells. But he said it is not yet clear that they have enough flexibility to be used in all the ways that an embryonic stem cell could be. Dang also said these embryos would otherwise be discarded.
Samuel Pfaff, a professor at the Salk Institute for Biologic Studies, said he also supports greater embryonic stem cell research to understand what makes them so special that scientists can endow other cells with similar properties.