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Stem cell policy change shows science is a priority

After years of heated debate on the issue of stem-cell research, the FDA’s approval of embryonic stem cell testing in humans is surprising — yet welcome — news.

Geron, a California-based biotechnology company, received approval for the use of embryonic stem cells to treat patients with spinal cord injuries. Although the company had applied to the FDA last March, they received approval only a week ago — a few days after the presidential inauguration. While the FDA and Geron maintain that the timing of the approval of the testing is coincidental, we’re happy that this issue is being brought to light in the first days of President Obama’s administration, making the path for further research much more feasible than it was under the Bush administration.

Former president George W. Bush approved federal funding for embryonic stem cell research only if it was being carried out with already existing colonies of such cells. With less than two dozen of such cell-lines useful for research purposes, this law as good as prohibited embryonic stem-cell research. In addition, Bush twice vetoed legislation passed by Congress to relax the already existing restrictions that were imposed on stem cell research.

The change in administration, however, brings hope to this severely restricted line of research — and the many people suffering from ailments that could be helped or cured by innovations that could come out of stem cell research. President Obama has indicated that he plans to loosen some of the restrictions placed on this field, and that this will happen early in his administration. In fact, he supported the legislation passed by Congress to reduce the restrictions imposed on the field. We’re happy that he is making scientific research and technology priorities in the early days of his presidency.

The new administration is bringing a lot of positive change with it and, for a primarily research-based university like Carnegie Mellon, Obama’s keen interest in progressive technology is heartening. Loosening the restrictions on embryonic stem cell research could greatly help research being carried out in regenerative medicine here at Carnegie Mellon, and also at the University of Pittsburgh, which together would benefit the economy and national image of the entire city of Pittsburgh, as it is centered on research and medical industries. We hope that Obama’s continued interest in science will provide an impetus for research here and elsewhere in the country.