Former first lady Nancy Reagan, who has emerged as a prominent supporter of stem cell research after her husband, former President Ronald Reagan, passed away in 2004 after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer's disease, said in a statement that she is "very grateful" that Obama has reversed the federal government's policy on embryonic stem cell research funding.
"These new rules will now make it possible for scientists to move forward," Reagan said in the statement. "Countless people, suffering from many different diseases, stand to benefit from the answers stem cell research can provide. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to do everything in our power to find cures for these diseases -- and soon."
One of those on hand for the signing at the White House was 34-year-old Roman Reed, who was paralyzed from the waist down at age 19, while playing college football.
The Fremont, Calif., resident and his parents have become tireless advocates for embryonic stem cell research. They were instrumental in getting California to fund this research when the federal government would not.
Reed told ABC News he is convinced embryonic stem cell research holds limitless promise.
"I know one day I will get out of this chair and pick up my son and hold him right. I promised my family that I would walk again, and I will make that dream come true," Reed said. "[President John F. Kennedy] was first to put man on [the] moon. Under President Obama the paralyzed will be the first to walk on Earth."
Reed's father and mother accompanied him to Washington.
"The last eight years have been frustrating," said Don Reed, Reed's father. "It's hard to have the president of the United States be an obstacle. We want the president on our side."
Also present were Washington, D.C., parents Laurie Strongin and Allen Goldberg, who used early stem cell technologies in an attempt to save the life of their son, Henry Strongin Goldberg. Henry, who had the rare genetic Fanconi anemia,died at the age of 7 when the experimental treatments failed to save him.
"Henry had a rare illness," Strongin said in a statement released Sunday. "Not one of the few stem cell lines that President Bush specified in his 2001 stem cell decision provided for research into Fanconi anemia or other devastating illnesses."
"It takes time to advance science from the laboratory to clinical trials to the bedside," Goldberg added in the statement. "We've lost eight precious years. We can't get Henry or that time back. Tomorrow the clock begins to tick anew, and the best medical minds can get to work."
The significance of the move has been hailed by disease advocacy organizations as a positive step toward new treatments for a variety of conditions, such as Parkinson's and Type-1 diabetes, where the embryonic stem cells might be able to replace cells in the patient's body which have malfunctioned.
"We are delighted to hear that President Obama will be signing a stem cell executive order on Monday, restoring a level of scientific freedom to this country that we believe is critical to the future," said Katie Hood, CEO of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research in a statement issued Friday. "Our foundation is optimistic about the work that will now continue toward better treatments and cures for the millions of people impacted by injury or disease."