Washington President Barack Obama’s announcement today that he is overturning his predecessor’s policies on embryonic stem cells also will include a broad declaration that science — not political ideology — would guide his administration.
Obama planned to reverse President George W. Bush’s limits on federally funded stem cell research through the National Institutes of Health and to put in place safeguards through the Office of Science and Technology Policy so that science is protected from political interference. The moves would fulfill a campaign promise.
“We’ve got eight years of science to make up for,” said Dr. Curt Civin, whose research allowed scientists to isolate stem cells and who now serves as the founding director of the University of Maryland Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. “Now, the silly restrictions are lifted.”
Bush limited taxpayer money for stem cell research to a small number of stem cell lines that were created before Aug. 9, 2001. Many of those faced drawbacks. Hundreds more of such lines — groups of cells that can continue to propagate in lab dishes — have been created since then. Scientists say those newer lines are healthier and better suited to creating treatments for diseases, but were largely off-limits to researchers who took federal funds.
“We view what happened with stem cell research in the last administration is one manifestation of failure to think carefully about how federal support of science and the use of scientific advice occurs,” said Harold Varmus, a Nobel Prize-winning biologist who is chairman of the White House’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.
Bush and his supporters said they were defending human life; days-old embryos — typically from fertility-clinic leftovers otherwise destined to be thrown away — are destroyed for the stem cells.
Obama’s advisers sought to downplay the divisions.
“I think we all realize, and the president certainly understands, there are people of good faith on both sides of this issue,” said Melody Barnes, the White House’s domestic policy adviser. “We recognize there are a range of beliefs on this.”