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Obama victory heralds change in US stem cell policy

10 November 2008
Appeared in BioNews 483

President-elect Barack Obama's victory in last week's US presidential elections is being celebrated by supporters of embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research. Senator Obama has been a vocal advocate of removing the current restriction on federal funds for human ES cell research imposed by President Bush in 2001. During his presidential campaign, Obama clearly expressed his intentions towards repealing the current executive order. 'As president, I will lift the current administration's ban on federal funding of research on embryonic stem cell lines...and I will ensure that all research on stem cells is conducted ethically and with rigorous oversight,' he said. Since his election, reports have indicated that Obama will repeal a number of laws issued by President Bush by executive order soon after he takes office on 20 January 2009, which includes the one that restricts federal funds for research on embryos.

'I believe that the restrictions that President Bush has placed on funding of human embryonic stem cell research have handcuffed our scientists and hindered our ability to compete with other nations,' said Obama, who has also in the past advocated the importance of ES cell research on the floor of the Senate after being visited by a young constituent suffering from cerebral palsy. Senator John McCain also supported the limited use of embryos in research, proposing to revise the current restrictions to allow funding for research only on embryos that are 'left over' and frozen following fertility treatment. Obama's position gives US scientists greater ability to conduct research on embryos, and he has taken a considerably more liberal position on associated issues than McCain, included supporting a women's right to choose an abortion and unrestricted access to family-planning services.

Meanwhile in Michigan, voters have approved Proposal 2 which repeals the current restrictions on ES cell research in the state. The measure was passed by a margin of 53 per cent to 47 per cent and will allow scientists to extract stem cells from spare embryos donated following fertility treatment. Under the previous restrictions, Michigan's stem cell scientists could only use ES cell lines created outside of the state.

Mary Coleman, President of the University of Michigan, which performs stem cell research on eleven of the ES cell lines eligible for federal funding, welcomed the approval. 'The passage of Proposal 2 by Michigan voters signals an exciting new era for scientific research and innovation in our state. By expanding research with the creation of new ES cells, University of Michigan scientists can broaden their pursuit of therapies and cures for medical disorders that touch the lives of thousands of Michigan families,' she said.

There is no funding attached to Proposal 2, as there was with a similar measure passed in California, and until federal funds are released by the new President, Michigan will have to rely on private funding. The ban on SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer) in Michigan remains.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Barack Obama prepares to reverse hundreds of Bush directives
The Daily Telegraph |  9 November 2008
Heated battle over stem-cells ends at prop 2 passes
Freep.com |  5 November 2008
Obama's win a victory for science: stem-cell researchers
The Vancouver Sun |  6 November 2008
Stem-cell law goes to the polls
Nature |  29 October 2008
What Obama's win means for science
Nature News |  5 November 2008
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