Rethink Stem Cells? Science Already Has
The president’s support of embryonic stem cell research comes at a time when many advances have been made with other sorts of stem cells. The Japanese biologist Shinya Yamanaka found in 2007 that adult cells could be reprogrammed to an embryonic state with surprising ease. This technology “may eventually eclipse the embryonic stem cell lines for therapeutic as well as diagnostics applications,” Dr. Kriegstein said. For researchers, reprogramming an adult cell can be much more convenient, and there have never been any restrictions on working with adult stem cells.
Restrictions on embryonic stem cell research originated with Congress, which, each year since in 1996, has forbidden the use of federal financing for any experiment in which a human embryo is destroyed. This includes the derivation of human stem cell lines from surplus fertility clinic embryos.
President Clinton contemplated but never implemented a policy that would have allowed N.I.H.-financed researchers to study human embryonic stem cells derived by others. Research was able to begin only in August 2001, when President Bush, seeking a different way around the Congressional restriction, said researchers could use any lines established before that date.
Mr. Obama has put the proposed Clinton policy into effect, but Congressional restrictions remain. Researchers are still forbidden to use federal financing to derive new human embryonic stem cell lines. They will, however, be allowed to do research on new stem cell lines grown in a privately financed lab.