Local Researcher Agrees With President's Decision on Stem Cells



President Barack Obama today signed an executive order allowing for expanded research on embryonic stem cells. Supporters believe embryonic stem cells, which are considered pluripotent and can differentiate into specific cell types, could be used to create healthy cells and tissues in order to cure diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

     The new directive permits spending federal monies on embryonic stem cell research, but it doesn’t not allow the use of taxpayer dollars to create new embryonic stem cell lines. Researchers can use lines created with private funds such as those made from embryos produced in fertility clinics.

     Brian Butcher, research professor and associate director of the Tulane Center for Gene Therapy, is enthusiastic about the president’s announcement. He points out that the Tulane center conducts experiments only on adult stem cells, but Butcher feels today’s decision will promote all scientific research, not just embryonic stem cell research.


What does this executive order mean for stem cell research?


“I think for all stem cell research it’s really positive. It’s going to allow us to expand our knowledge of stem cells in general, and certainly in terms of allowing federal monies on embryonic (stem cells) as well as others is a big plus. While we here at Tulane only do adult stem cells and this is one of the states where embryonic (stem cells) as you know is controversial, most scientists would agree that the data aren’t out yet to be able to make a good judgment on what are the best, or if [embryonic stem cells] are the best, or different uses for different types, embryonic versus adult stem cells.”


So this executive order will let researchers use embryonic stem cell lines created from private funds?


“What this does is basically reverts back to where the scientists were before. NIH (National Institutes of Health) made very careful plans and extremely rigorous guidelines. The only cells they would use for embryonic cell research were cells that came from fertility clinics. Normally, these cells were going to be thrown away, discarded and destroyed. The rules in the old days and what they are again mean is that you are able to do as you wish as a donor. Male and female must give approval, and if you both approve you can say ‘well, if those cells are going to be destroyed any way, I’d much rather they be utilized for research for the good of mankind.’”


Previously there were only about 22 embryonic stem cell lines approved by the feds for federally-funded research, how many are there now?


“Well, the number is as many as you wish because in fertility clinics, there are large numbers of them that are discarded. So if you have opportunity to go get those cells, the embryonic stem cells, you’re talking a lot of different potential there.”


Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) the No. 2 Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives  said the federal funding of embryonic stem research could bring on embryonic harvesting and human cloning.


“Yeah, that’s always a fear raised by people, but I guarantee you if you went around and interviewed every scientist in this country, probably 99.9 percent of them would be against human cloning.”


Cantor also said due to the financial crisis this was the wrong time to be discussing this issue. Couldn’t this executive order lead to job creation?


“Oh yeah. Right now there are number of people with very good ideas, research ideas, but the funding’s been shut off because their ideas involved doing research with stem cells.”






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