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Stem Cell Research: Is Progress Delayed Progress Denied?

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Roisen, Black, and other researchers say that while they're grateful Bush didn't follow through on his campaign pledge to ban embryonic stem cell research entirely -- despite broad public support for such research -- they aren't breaking out the champagne either. In fact, the limits imposed on embryonic stem cell research could delay or even prevent discovery of new treatments for Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and spinal cord injuries, they contend.

"The president is saying, 'We're going to tie one of your hands behind your back -- now go and do research," Roisen tells WebMD. Although he works with stem cells derived from cadavers or from living donors and is theoretically not affected by the restrictions, Roisen says he needs "the baseline information on the embryonic stem cells to be able to apply it to the adult stem cells."

"If you're ... already engaged in the use of human stem cells through private resources, this [decision] is very good news, because this allows you to seek federal funding and fall under the review of federal procedures," says Daniel A. Peterson, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience at Finch University of Health Sciences/Chicago Medical School, Chicago. "But for those who are doing research in the field but are not presently working in this area, it doesn't allow them to initiate additional and new approaches to studying these cells, and while it lets them use federal funding to work on existing lines, there's the possible scientific restriction in that we have a limited diversity."

Peterson likens the situation to studying heart disease in a population of only 60 individuals, when in fact researchers need to study populations numbering in the thousands in order to see the range of disorders, genetic diversity, lifestyle and environmental factors, and differences in response to disease represented in the human race.

The researchers also note that the decision puts U.S. scientists at a distinct scientific and competitive disadvantage compared with their colleagues in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, where there is both public and governmental support for embryonic stem cell research.

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