President Obama has lifted the ban on embryonic stem cell research enacted by Bush, but I’m left feeling that this intervention came many years too late.
Pledging that his administration will “make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology,” President Obama on Monday lifted the Bush administration’s strict limits on human embryonic stem cell research.
But Mr. Obama went on to say that the majority of Americans “have come to a consensus that we should pursue this research; that the potential it offers is great, and with proper guidelines and strict oversight the perils can be avoided.”
In making his announcement, Mr. Obama drew a strict line against human cloning, an issue that over the years has become entangled with the debate over human embryonic stem cell research.
As someone who works with stem cells I find this largely an empty, symbolic act, but one that needed to be done anyway. The reality is the damage was done by Bush already, and we’re fortunate that it was only a temporary delay in some of the most important research humans have developed to date.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that in 2006 a revolutionary result was discovered by Japanese scientists led by Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University. What they found was the reset button for mammalian cells, the genes that need to be expressed for a cell to revert to a pluripotent state. We wrote extensively about what results in these cells – induced Pluripotent Stem Cells or iPSC – mean for stem cell research and regenerative medicine overall. Basically, the ability to reprogram the cells of any individual to a totipotent state – one in which the cells may make any cell-type or tissue in the human body. Before some fool suggests this was due to Bush remember it was a Japanese group, the research started long before Bush, and it never would have been possible without ES cells from which they culled the critical genes for the transformation.
So why does it matter that Obama has reversed this policy? Not only are ES cells inferior compared to iPSC for human therapies, but wouldn’t it be easier not to upset the fundamentalists that would equate the value of our lives to that of a ball of undifferentiated cells?