State groups divided on embryonic stem cell policy reversal

President Barack Obama’s recent decision to lift restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research is eliciting a variety of reactions in the region.

Scientists said the new research that could be funded would help determine whether the cells could be used to prevent dangerous diseases or to regenerate tissue.

Opponents of the decision called the measure an assault on human life, and a step in the wrong direction for the country.

Brad Kemp, executive director of the Kansas Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, said Obama’s decision to reverse an executive order signed by President George W. Bush essentially opened funding for new lines of stem cells for federal research — lines that had been funded by private research since 2001.

He said that while the exact benefits of the research are still not yet known, the president’s decision means that the research can accelerate, and the scientific community can know sooner about the cells’ potential for helping the fight against diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

“We’re also encouraged that the president has taken a stand that politics generally will not interfere with science,” Kemp said.

Mary Kay Culp, state executive director for Kansans for Life, said she was shocked at how far Obama went in his decision to make additional funds available for research.

“It’s a massive assault on the dignity of human life, and what it means to be human,” she said.

She also said that questioning the humanity of an unborn child could lead to sticky ethical situations later. “You can’t just look at A, B and C,” she said. “You’ve got to look at X, Y and Z down the line.”

She said her group has joined other scientific researchers in supporting the use of adult stem cell research and other forms of research free from ethical issues, but not embryonic stem cell research.

At the Kansas City-based Stowers Institute for Medical Research, stem cell research is ongoing. In a statement, Bill Neaves, president and CEO of the institute, said that while scientists there are not reliant on federal National Institutes of Health funding for embryonic stem cell research, they applauded Obama’s decision to loosen the federal regulations.

“Most people do not consider a few undifferentiated cells in a lab dish to be the moral equivalent of a person and see no reason why research on these cells should have been denied federal funding,” Neaves’ statement said. “Allowing scientists who study human embryonic stem cells to compete for NIH grants is a long overdue removal of unnecessary restrictions on research in regenerative medicine.”

The institute and Kansas University Medical Center are conducting research on the cells, which can develop into nearly all types of other cells in the human body.

Kenneth R. Peterson, professor and vice chairman of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at KU Medical Center, said in an e-mail that two researchers perform human embryonic stem cell research using lines approved under the Bush administration.

“There is renewed interest among some of the scientists to do research with human ES cells now that the ban has been lifted,” Peterson wrote. “However, it will take time for them to develop research plans.”