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Obama Ends Curbs on Stem Cell Research

President Removes Funding Limits on Use of Embryonic Stem Cells
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 9, 2009 -- President Barack Obama signed an order Monday opening up federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, clearing the way for scientists to conduct broad experiments on the cells using taxpayer dollars.

By signing an executive order, the president overturned a seven-and-a-half-year-old Bush administration policy that restricted federal funding to fewer than two dozen cell lines already derived at the time. Bush had said the limits would stop taxpayer dollars from going to research that required destroying human embryos as a source of stem cells.

Before signing the order Monday in the East Room of the White House, Obama said the Bush policy had forced "a false choice between sound science and moral values."

Though he acknowledged "a difficult balance" between the moral and scientific issues of embryonic stem cell research, Obama said the research must go forward.

"Medical miracles do not happen simply by accident. They result from painstaking and costly research, from years of lonely trial and error, much of which never bears fruit, and from a government willing to support that work," he said.

Embryonic stem cells have the ability to become any type of cell in the body. Scientists believe that makes them ideal candidates for developing potential treatments for diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and other ailments.

Researchers are also pursuing ways to reprogram adult stem cells to behave like embryonic cells. Adult stem cells are found in adults and children and can be collected without harming the donor.

Reaction From Supporters and Critics of Stem Cell Research

The president thrilled embryonic research supporters with Monday's executive order. "It's very exciting," says Ian McNiece, PhD, director of the Cell Therapies Program at the University of Miami's Stem Cell Institute.

McNiece says the 22 or so stem cell lines eligible for federally funded research under the Bush administration's policy were of only limited utility because of contamination and other issues.

"They would never have been suitable for therapies that would go back into patients," he tells WebMD. "Now we can pursue treatments that can be directed toward clinical trials and ultimately patient use."

But the order inflamed critics, who believe the research is immoral because it usually requires destroying human embryos as a source of stem cells.

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