Center for American Progress

Giving Stem Cells the Chance to Revolutionize Medicine
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Giving Stem Cells the Chance to Revolutionize Medicine

The House votes this week on the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which would update our outmoded national stem cell policy.

Stem cell research holds the potential to change the face of medicine in our country. Increased funding for embryonic stem cell research brings the promise of finding cures and treatment for life-threatening diseases and conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, spinal cord injury, and heart disease. Scientists continue to discover new uses for stem cells; just last month, scientists used embryonic stem cells to create insulin-producing cells that could lead to a cure for diabetes. But without our government’s legislative and financial support of embryonic stem cell research, these efforts will be significantly slowed.

This week, the House will vote on a bill to update our national stem cell policy. Measures to expand stem cell research funding, such as those contained in Bill S.5, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, could help save human lives. There is wide support for research funding among the American people and within Congress. The federal government has every reason to fully support this research, yet the president continues to say he’ll veto any efforts to do so.

Public support for embryonic stem cell research is overwhelming. According to a 2007 ABC News/Washington Post poll, 61 percent of Americans say they support embryonic stem cell research. Furthermore, a 2007 CBS News poll shows that the majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents approve of medical research that uses embryonic stem cells. The president’s own party agrees that we need to pursue embryonic stem cell research that could help save lives.

In the recently released Center for American Progress report “Divided We Fail: The Need for National Stem Cell Funding,” CAP’s Jonathan Moreno, Sam Berger, and Alix Rogers show that the federal government must take a leadership role in funding stem cell research. Although the states are doing their part, the lack of federal funding and support severely hinders progress. The lion’s share of funding—about 79.4 percent—comes from the federal government. The government also spends more on embryonic stem cell research, but if we don’t update our stem cell policy, much of this funding will be used on outdated stem cell lines. This research is too important not to use the best tools we have available to us.

Even President Bush’s own scientists support legislation to update stem cell research policy. Dr. Elias Zerhouni, the director of the National Institutes of Health, has said that “American science will be better served—and the nation will be better served—if we let our scientists have access to more cell lines that they can study with the different methods that have emerged since 2001.” Dr. Story Landis, director of NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, agrees that the Bush administration’s limits on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research have led to missed opportunities for possible medical breakthroughs. These scientists recognize that the old stem cell policy is slowing research.

The federal government needs to catch up with the rest of the country in its support of stem cell research. Its support of measures that would expand its funding would be a good first step.

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