Advocates of stem-cell research are counting the days until the swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama. Although President George Bush has strictly limited stem-cell research from cell lines derived from human embryos, Obama has long favored such research and is likely to put a quick end to the federal ban that limits funding of research.
In a 2007 news release supporting legislation to loosen restrictions on stem-cell research, Obama said:
"I am frustrated ... that we are preventing the advancement of important science that could potentially impact millions of suffering Americans ... My hope, and the hope of so many in this country, is to provide our researchers with the means to explore the uses of embryonic stem cells so that we can begin to turn the tide on the devastating diseases affecting our nation and our world."
The Vancouver Sun reported today that researchers attending a stem-cell conference in Canada were elated with Obama's win. Dr. Clayton Smith, an American researcher who moved to British Columbia five years ago to perform stem-cell research, told the Sun: "Watching the election last night was a singular event, like watching the Berlin Wall fall."
USA Today reported that people attending the annual fundraiser benefiting the Michael J. Fox Foundation in New York Wednesday night were giddy over Obama's win. "In all fairness, Sen. McCain has been supportive of our foundation in the past and supportive of research. But I think this administration will really embrace it," said Fox, who has Parkinson's disease. Researchers are hopeful that stem-cell research could eventually yield a successful treatment for the disease.
Stem-cell researchers had a good night Tuesday in various states as well. Michigan voters passed Proposition 2, allowing new embryonic stem-cell lines to be derived from embryos that have been created for fertility treatment purposes. The embryos affected by the amendment would otherwise be discarded unless donated with informed consent. And voters in Colorado rejected Amendment 48, which would have declared a fertilized egg a person with legal rights. The amendment, if passed, could have resulted in a ban on abortions, stem-cell research and some reproductive health services.
The federal ban on stem-cell research has left the United States well behind other countries in the scientific pursuit of stem-cell knowledge and products. Today, for example, Japanese researchers reported they had created, for the first time, functioning human brain tissue from stem cells taken from human embryos. The study is published online in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
-- Shari Roan
Photo: Functional human brain tissue made from stem cells is shown from the laboratory of Japanese scientist Yoshiki Sasai. Credit: Yoshiki Sasai/AFP/Getty Images