A new executive order signed by President Barack Obama last week has given many stem cell researchers a reason to celebrate.
The order lifted an eight-year ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, a move highly anticipated by scientists across the nation.
UC Davis stem cell researchers commended Obama’s reversal of the ban as an important step forward in the search for cures to many debilitating diseases and disorders including diabetes, Parkinson’s and various cancers.
“President Obama’s decision [to reverse the ban] is great for stem cell research in the U.S.,” said Dr. Simon Cherry, biomedical engineering professor and member of the UC Davis Stem Cell Program. “Stem cell research is such an important area and the ban has really been hindering [researchers] to compete internationally.”
The ban, first put into place by former President George W. Bush, restricted scientists from conducting research on stem cell lines created after August 2001, something that UC Davis researchers say created a lot of barriers.
“One of the big problems is that a lot of these old lines were very primitive,” said Dr. Gerhard Bauer, professor of Hematology and Oncology. “These cells were good for research but were never meant for human clinical trials. Millions of dollars were spent cleaning these old lines up so that they could be used in clinical trials – newer lines would have saved a lot of money.“
While the ban acted as a hindrance for many researchers throughout the country, Cherry said California scientists were not as affected by it.
“In California we were very lucky,” he said. “The California Institute of Research stepped in and provided funding for new lines that Bush’s ban eliminated so we didn’t suffer as much as some researchers in other parts of the country … however the ban set us back in the field, definitely.“
Bauer, whose research with stem cells is focused on finding a cure for HIV, said one of the biggest downfalls resulting from the ban is the loss of human talent.
“Lack of funding for stem cell research means that there was a reduction in available jobs in this field,” he said. “My fear is that we lost a whole generation of talented scientists because for eight years college graduates were not able to find jobs in stem cell research and so they took their skills to other fields.“
Another problem resulting from the Bush ban was the need to separate research done on old lines from that done with newer lines.
“Researchers had to keep all resources and equipment separate,” said Dr. Mark Zern, professor of gastroenterology and hepatology. “Hopefully the ban’s reversal will make things easier by allowing mixing of funds so that we do not have to reduplicate things like facilities and equipment.“
In a speech prior to signing the executive order, President Obama emphasized the importance of basing science on fact and not ideology.
“In recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values,” President Obama said. “In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent.“
ERICA LEE can be reached at email@example.com.