Getting stem-cell research back on track

GETTING STEM-CELL RESEARCH BACK ON TRACK…. Scientists who were optimistic about the potential breakthroughs from stem-cell research have been stymied for nearly eight years by Bush administration restrictions. With Obama poised to take office, the scientific community is fired up and ready to go.

Once [Obama] has acted to ease the restriction on federal funding, researchers across the United States will be free to request funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and to collaborate with colleagues conducting experiments with private or state-government money and those working abroad.

“Just with the stroke of a pen, the new president could open up new avenues of research,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (Colo.), the lead Democratic sponsor of legislation that would broaden funding for embryonic stem cell research…. “He would really be signaling that we really are moving in a new direction,” DeGette said.

“The research facilities in America … are by and large prepared to move forward with the research. I don’t think there’d be much delay,” said Rep. Mike Castle (Del.), the lead Republican sponsor of the bill.

Congress twice passed measures to undo Bush’s restrictions, but despite bipartisan support, the president vetoed both. Come 2009, lawmakers probably won’t have to bother with legislation — Obama can correct Bush’s mistake through executive order.

“It could change things pretty much right away,” said Terry Devitt, the director of research communications for the University of Wisconsin, which runs the U.W. Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center.

Devitt added, though, that the progress won’t be immediate. “There’s still a lot of basic science to be done…. The [Bush] policy has set research back five to six to seven years in this country.”

It’s painful to think about what kind of advancements could have been made if Bush had embraced a coherent policy.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.