Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Obama lifts ban on stem cell research funding!
Yesterday, President Obama reversed a 2001 Bush ruling that prohibited the use of federal funds to support embryonic stem cell research. Even in these times of economic woe, stem cell scientists believe that there is enough money ready to be distributed that this reversal will have immediate impacts.
As you are probably aware, embryonic stem cell research has been controversial because it requires that human embryos (at a VERY early age of development) be destroyed. The right wing of the Republican Party, along with the "Moral Majority" have opposed this research because they say it promotes abortion. In truth, the embryos used for stem cell research have and will come primarily from fertility clinics, where non-implanted embryos are literally thrown into the trash.
The reason that stem cell researchers use these embryos that are in extremely early stages of development is that, as you'll recall from last semester, for the first few cell divisions that occur after a zygote is produced, all cells are identical - no differentiation has taken place. These cells are "pluripotent," meaning that they have the ability to differentiate into ANY kind of cell, depending on their local environment. Thus, embryonic stem cells can theoretically be placed into the spinal tissue of someone whose spine has been severely injured and they will be triggered to grow into new nervous tissue. There are other types of stem cells in the body, some of which can be "induced" to become pluripotent. Umbilical cord stem cells are also a potential source of puripotent stem cells. Using "older" pluripotent cells of any of these types is problematic however, as they have accumulated enough genetic markers to be rejected by the immune system of a person receiving them.
The NIH (National Institute of Health) has a great website discussing yesterday's decision, along with a lot of additional info on the topic. Check it out! There are surely many careers in this area waiting out there!