In 2001, George W. Bush signed an order limiting federal funding for stem cell research to already existing lines. Many believe the move squelched progress on the most promising medical frontier in a generation.
The Big O promised during the campaign that he’d overturn the ban, and the minute the polls closed back in November the NIH began drafting guidelines assuming he’d do just that.
Most assumed that when Obama got around to following through on his promise, he’d specify that federal dollars should be used only to support research on unused embryos produced as a byproduct of in vitro fertilization; embryos that would otherwise be discarded.
Instead, he chose not to specify anything about the sources of stem cells for medical research.
He tasked the NIH to make recommendations in this regard, and he wants answers in 120 days.
This neatly fulfilled another campaign promise, which was to reinvolve scientists in deliberations regarding ethics. The punt also leaves open the possibility that taxpayer dollars could be used to support broader, more controversial experiments.
Would it be OK to use embryos created specifically for research purposes or by cloning, for example?
Obama quickly closed the door on latter, saying “we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction.”
NIH officials were surprised and delighted to receive the broader assignment.
They promised to consult guidelines created by the National Academy of Sciences and the International Society for Stem Cell Research, which already permit research on stem cells from multiple sources.
“The president’s order offers us the opportunity to look carefully at how we might best identify responsible and scientifically worthy science that the NIH should be funding,” Story Landis told the Washington Post.
He’s the man in charge of the NIH stem cell task force and the clock is ticking.