Obama Win 'Sigh of Relief' for Stem Cell Research

For Dr. George Daley, Sen. Barack Obama's recent victory in the U.S. presidential election was a hopeful sign for an issue he holds close to his heart -- and which he believes has the potential to save lives.

The issue is stem cell research. And Daley, immediate past president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, says that, since the election, hopes have been high that the next four years could signal an era of greater flexibility for scientists in the field.

"We are hopeful that removing restrictions on funding for stem cells will be one of the first acts of the Obama presidency," Daley said.

"In the research community, we would all breathe a sigh of relief."

The restrictions, which have been in place since 1994, have been seen by many in the field as a stifling force. Though such research was still possible through private and state dollars, the creation of and experimentation on such lines quickly became taboo for many universities and other research centers under fear of scrutiny.

The first hint of a policy change came Aug. 30 when the group Science Debate 2008 received a response to questions they posed to both the Obama and McCain campaigns regarding their positions on federal funds for stem cell research.

"I strongly support expanding research on stem cells," the response from the Obama team reads. "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.

"As president, I will lift the current administration's ban on federal funding of research on embryonic stem cell lines created after Aug. 9, 2001 through executive order, and I will ensure that all research on stem cells is conducted ethically and with rigorous oversight."

Most researchers shared Daley's enthusiasm. "The next administration adopts the mainstream view of the majority of Americans: that stem cell research offers the best hope and potential for some of the desperately needed cures for currently untreatable diseases," said James Douglas Engel, professor and chair of the department of cell and developmental biology at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. "Obviously, if federal funds become available for this research it will hasten our goal of developing cures for these diseases."

Others said that such a move could put the United States on pace with Israel, Australia, Canada, Japan and a number of Western European countries that have adopted flexible policies to push embryonic stem cell research.

"Politically, this will have an important effect on providing an open policy for stem cell research in the U.S., and could help increase our country's status as a leader in the field," said Dr. Paul Sanberg, director of the Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

But not all agreed that such a reversal would have an immediate positive effect.

"This is principally form over substance," said Tim McCaffrey, director of The George Washington University Medical Center's Catherine Birch McCormick Genomics Center in Washington, D.C.

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