Researchers Applaud Obama’s New Stem Cell Policy

On Monday, President Obama issued an executive order overturning the Bush Administration's strict regulations regarding embryonic stem cell research. Under the Bush policy, federal money could only be used to study a limited number of embryonic stem cell lines. Under the new regulations, thousands more lines will be available for research. This will open doors for enthusiastic researchers-but some critics remain. From the KUHF NewsLab, Melissa Galvez reports.

As of this week, Rick Wetsel is excited to go to work again.

“People don’t realize it, but for the last six years, scientists in this country — biomedical researchers — we’ve been very depressed.”

Wetsel is a professor of molecular medicine at the UT Health Science Center.  He studies how to use embryonic stem cells to repair lungs damaged by emphysema, or cystic fibrosis.  His research is very important to people suffering from diseases like these:

“They call me. They email me.  That depresses me too, on two levels, because I keep telling them we’re really inhibited in keeping this going forward, and secondly, even once we get the money, it’s probably still 5 to 10 years before we can have this in the clinics, and some of these people only have a year left to live, and it’s really hard to tell them that.”

But that was before.  Under the old rules, Wetsel could only use federal money to study older stem cell lines-which he says were not very now for research.  But now, Wetsel can use federal funds to study newer, more robust cells.  This means millions more dollars for research into cures.  It also means that he won’t spend time worrying about a maze of federal restrictions on his research.

Wetsel says that one of the best things about this policy change is that America will be back on the cutting edge of science.  Formerly, many researchers moved to countries like England, that have less restrictions.

“With the way our economy is now, that’s not a good thing. We need to be the leaders in science, not the ones basically on the bench, just to come in when the game’s already been won.”

But not everyone is so excited about the new rules.  Colin Hanna is president of Let Freedom Ring, a public policy organization which educates people on issues such as stem cell research, terrorism, and immigration.

“Why should we pursue research which requires killing the donor organization when research which does not require killing the donor organism seems to show more promise?”

He’s talking about adult stem cells, which are not derived from embryos, but which also show promise to cure disease.  Hanna argues that we should put our federal dollars towards studying those cells, which are not controversial, rather than embryonic stem cells.  Some people object to these on moral grounds.

But Wetsel argues that adult stem cells don’t work with some diseases, and so we need to explore every option until we find a cure.  Besides, he says, this path is logical and useful.

“Why not use those for the greater good? They’re going to be discarded anyway.”

From the KUHF NewsLab, I’m Melissa Galvez