The announcement resounded through the research community as well. Sean Morrison, the director of the University of Michigan Center for Stem Cell Biology in Ann Arbor, said he was "overjoyed" at the news of Obama's reversal.
"President Obama's executive order signals a new day in which science policy will be based on science and in which the federal government can invest in the best ideas with the greatest potential to improve public health," Morrison said. "America will once again seek to be the world's engine for biomedical discovery, leading the way toward new treatments for disease."
Morrison warned that the promise of stem cell research remains unknown.
"It's important for people to understand that embryonic stem cell research is not going to cure spinal cord injury or other disease overnight," said Morrison. "These are complicated problems."
But the executive order that ends President Bush's 2001 ban on such research will likely bring no such end to the fierce political debate that surrounds the use of embryonic stem cells.
Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., -- co-author of the stem cell legislation that President Bush vetoed twice -- welcomed the White House decision.
"I could not be more excited to hear that President Obama will finally lift the stifling restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research -- something I have actively fought for over the last five years," Castle said in a statement released last week. "This single action symbolizes a new day for scientific research and highlights the importance of a strong federal role in promoting potentially life-saving science."
But House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said millions of people oppose the decision.
"Advancements in science and research have moved faster than the debates among politicians in Washington, D.C., and breakthroughs announced in recent years confirm that the full potential of stem cell research can be realized without the destruction of living human embryos," Boehner's statements read. "The question is whether taxpayer dollars should be used to subsidize the destruction of precious human life. Millions of Americans strongly oppose that, and rightfully so."
David Prentice, senior fellow for life sciences for the Washington, D.C.-based Christian advocacy group Family Research Council, expressed similar disappointment.
"There are adult stem cells that are helping to improve patients' health and saving lives, and these new iPS cells that are providing basic research tools to study disease," Prentice said. "It's really a waste of resources to be moving in that direction now. It's a waste of funding, and it's a waste of lives, both in terms of the embryos and the patients waiting for these advances. ... I think it's clear that this is perhaps just fulfilling a campaign promise that was ill conceived."
What has traditionally made embryonic stem cells such a hot-button issue is the fact that, in order to obtain them, researchers must destroy human embryos -- a step that some say violates the sanctity of human life.
In August 2001, Bush signed an executive order barring federal funds for embryonic stem cell research on all but a couple dozen existing embryonic stem cell lines.