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Parkinson's Disease Health Center

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Senate Passes New Stem Cell Bill

But Tally Falls Short of Votes Needed to Override a Presidential Veto

Role of Stem Cells in Research continued...

But scientists theorize that the ability to grow new tissue from stem cells makes them a prime candidate for new ways to treat degenerative disorders like diabetes or Parkinson's disease.

The Senate bill overturns a decision issued by Bush in August 2001 that limited federal embryonic stem cell research funding to about 70 cell lines already derived at that time. Bush billed the decision as a compromise allowing science to proceed without letting taxpayer money go to the destruction of embryos.

Most of the scientific community chafed at the decision. Since 2001, the number of cell lines viable for research under the plan has dropped to around 20, and researchers complain that those lines lack the genetic diversity to make them useful.

The issue recently caused a split in Bush administration ranks. Last month, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Elias Zerhouni, MD, called White House limits on embryonic stem cell research "shortsighted" and suggesting the nation would benefit if the policy were reversed.

"It is clear today that American science will be better served and the nation will be better served if we let our scientists have access to more cell lines," Zerhouni told a Senate committee on March 19.

Zerhouni later played down the importance of the remarks. But supporters of the research on Capitol Hill quickly pointed out that it was the first time Zerhouni, a Bush political appointee, had publicly criticized the policy after years of voicing support for it.

It is unclear whether the Senate will muster enough votes to override a veto. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-N.D., supports the repeal but did not vote because he is recovering from a brain hemorrhage. Supporters are hoping to put enough pressure on lawmakers in moderate states in the hopes that one or two more will switch sides.

The House is likely to soon vote again on the issue. The Senate added a provision to its bill requiring the NIH to fund research into methods of extracting human stem cells without destroying embryos. Before the bill goes to the president, the House will have to pass its bill with the new provision included.

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