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What does Bush's victory mean for stem cells?

Stem-cell research, a once obscure area of medical science that crossed over into politics during the 2004 election, may benefit from the re-election of President Bush, supporters said.
/ Source: Reuters

Stem-cell research, a once obscure area of medical science that crossed over into politics during the 2004 election, may benefit from the re-election of President Bush, supporters said Wednesday.

Scientists in other fields were less optimistic after four years of an often antagonistic relationship with the Bush administration, but hope the end of the campaign season will bring the opportunity for cooperation.

Research involving stem cells taken from human embryos has won support across political and ideological lines, and a measure to spend $3 billion on the new science passed in a California ballot measure Tuesday.

Supporters also say they have enough votes in both the House and the Senate to pass legislation to encourage the research on a federal level, despite clear opposition from Bush, who has severely restricted the use of federal funds for such work.

“We heard from a number of Republican members of Congress over the past several months who indicated support for stem-cell research but didn’t want to break with their president during a tough election battle. So they may feel free to express their support now,” said Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the Campaign for the Advancement of Medical Research.

“There is reason to believe that Congress is going to be in the mood to loosen the policy on stem-cell research,” Tipton added in a telephone interview.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells, used to generate new blood and tissue. They can come from a variety of sources but those taken from days-old human embryos seem to have the most flexibility, although scientists agree much more research is needed.

Proponents say research using human embryonic stem cells, either from fertility clinic leftovers or using cloning technology, promises to transform medicine. Opponents say it destroys a human life.

Limited federal funds
In August 2001, Bush limited the use of federal funds for stem-cell research to batches of cells, called lines, that existed at the time. He said that taxpayers who oppose the research should not have to pay for it.

Scientists said that severely limited what they could do.

The issue came to political prominence this year with the deaths of former President Ronald Reagan, who had Alzheimer’s, and Superman actor Christopher Reeve, who died from complications of his paralysis caused by a riding accident.

Reeve strongly believed stem-cell research would someday help people like him and campaigned hard for more funding. Reagan’s widow, Nancy, has similar hopes for brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

“Presidents who know they don’t have to face the electorate again are free to act differently from those who are going to run for re-election. So I think we can be hopeful that the president is going to be a little more science friendly,” Tipton said.

Suzanne Shaw of the Union of Concerned Scientists agreed, although she is a little more wary. Her left-leaning group has accused Bush of choosing ideological soulmates instead of experts for advisory committees on important scientific and environmental issues.

“Hopefully, now that the election is over, the administration may be more open to really talking about these issues,” she said.