Top aide: Obama to lift stem cell ban "soon"

Choked for funding in recent years, stem cell researchers had some encouraging news over the weekend. On "Fox News Sunday," Top Obama aide David Axelrod confirmed that the president is expected to act soon on a campaign pledge to lift a federal spending ban on embryonic stem cell research.

The move is widely expected to give a timely boost to the biotech industry with a funding windfall, fueling innovation and job growth at facilities across the country.

The ban, imposed eight years ago by President Bush, severely limited funding for stem cell R&D, which scientists believe could eventually lead to cures for Parkinson's disease, diabetes, spinal cord injuries and other illnesses.

"The president is considering that right now," Axelrod said over the weekend.

Stem cell research is contentious because it involves the destruction of embryos, which anti-abortion groups consider human life. In August 2001, Bush signed an executive order barring the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. The ban extended to the use of any lab equipment paid for by federal funds, forcing many researchers to buy costly duplicates.

While in the Senate, Obama supported a bill that would have allowed funding for stem cell research on discarded embryos from fertility treatments. The bill was vetoed by President Bush.

In the absence of a clear federal policy on stem cells, scientists have been forced to navigate a complex network of state laws and biotech industry guidelines over the past few years. Some have also had to contend with pro-life demonstrations outside of medical labs and clinics.

That climate is already changing fast. Last month, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first-ever human stem cell trial, in which doctors are hoping to re-grow damaged nerves in patients with crushed spinal cords.

Researchers in states that already support stem cell R&D are now poised for a funding windfall. For example, California has invested over $600 million in stem cell research over the past four years, primarily to build labs and other facilities that may soon attract millions more in federal taxpayer funding.

Deborah Barrow is the Editor-in-Chief of wowOwow.
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