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Obama Gets Stem Cell Research Right

We can finally dream of incurable diseases being cured. Welcome, at last, to the 21st century.
In the beginning there is the stem cell; it is the origin of an organism's life. It is a single cell that can give rise to progeny that differentiate into any of the specialized cells of embryonic or adult tissues.
- Stewart Sell, M.D., Senior Scientist, Ordway Research Institute

The Obama administration won its way through to passage of the economic stimulus package, and President Obama will sign the thing on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he's going to Phoenix to kick off a big national push for fixing the foreclosure crisis. There is still a war going on in Afghanistan, and there is still a war going on in Iraq. The White House has wisely decided to stay away from the question of Karl Rove's subpoena and the limits of Bush-era executive privilege claims; the issue is one of separation of powers, and therefore must be handled by the legislative and judicial branches, so the executive branch doesn't wind up getting to determine the limits of its own power.

So there's a lot of galactically heavy stuff going on right now, with more sure to come.

But there's also this, from The Associated Press on Sunday afternoon:

President Barack Obama will soon issue an executive order lifting an eight-year ban on embryonic stem cell research imposed by his predecessor, President George W. Bush, a senior adviser said on Sunday. "We're going to be doing something on that soon, I think. The president is considering that right now," Obama adviser David Axelrod said on "Fox News Sunday."

In 2001, Bush limited federal funding for stem cell research only to human embryonic stem cell lines that already existed. It was a gesture to his conservative Christian supporters who regard embryonic stem cell research as destroying potential life, because the cells must be extracted from human embryos. Embryonic stem cells are the most basic human cells which can develop into any type of cell in the body.

Scientists believe the research could eventually produce cures for a variety of diseases, including Parkinson's disease, diabetes, heart disease and spinal cord injuries. Obama vowed to reverse Bush's ban during his presidential campaign, and in his inaugural address last month promised to return science to its proper place in the United States.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) describes cells this way:

Stem cells have two important characteristics that distinguish them from other types of cells. First, they are unspecialized cells that renew themselves for long periods through cell division. The second is that under certain physiologic or experimental conditions, they can be induced to become cells with special functions such as the beating cells of the heart muscle or the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Stem cells are important for living organisms for many reasons. In the 3- to 5-day-old embryo, called a blastocyst, stem cells in developing tissues give rise to the multiple specialized cell types that make up the heart, lung, skin and other tissues. In some adult tissues, such as bone marrow, muscle and brain, discrete populations of adult stem cells generate replacements for cells that are lost through normal wear and tear, injury or disease.

The CDC estimated in 2008 that 24 million Americans suffered from diabetes, 5.7 million of them currently undiagnosed. Fifty-seven million more Americans are estimated to have pre-diabetes. The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion estimates one in three Americans born after 2000 will develop diabetes sometime within their lifetime. Complications from diabetes include a doubled risk of cardiovascular disease, renal failure, retinal damage and blindness, various kinds of nerve damage and poor wound healing that can lead to gangrene and potentially to amputation. Diabetes is the leading cause of adult blindness in non-elderly persons and the leading cause of non-traumatic amputation in adults. Diabetes is also the main illness requiring renal dialysis in the United States.

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