Three years ago, President Bush opened the nation’s laboratory doors for the first time to federal taxpayer funding for human embryonic stem cell research.
The President remains committed to this groundbreaking policy that is advancing medical research into some of our most debilitating diseases. As we look forward to further progress on stem cell research, both embryonic and adult, it is important to keep in mind several important points.
President Bush provided -- for the first time -- federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. The President’s unprecedented decision allows for federal funding of research using existing stem cell lines that were derived before Aug. 9, 2001, with no limits on private funding of research. The President believes that federal funds should not be used to encourage or support further destruction of human embryos, a principle that has been part of federal law since 1996. The impact of the President’s decision was to open the flow of federal research dollars for embryonic stem cells and help accelerate work in this field.
The policy is working. Under President Bush, federal funding for embryonic stem cell research has grown from zero under previous administrations to $24.8 million in fiscal year 2003, with no limits on future federal funding of research on eligible lines. This investment has supported more than 500 shipments of stem cell lines to researchers around the world who are in the early stages of finding ways stem cells can be used to treat diseases such as neurological disorders, diabetes and heart disease. Additionally, in fiscal year 2003, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided $190.7 million in adult stem cell research, which continues to show exciting promise.
The Administration is working to maximize research opportunities within the federal guidelines. NIH is taking new steps to create a National Embryonic Stem Cell Bank that will provide a ready source of human embryonic stem cells to scientists, ensure consistent quality of the lines and provide other technical support that will make it easier for scientists to use these lines. NIH is also creating three new Centers of Excellence for Translational Stem Cell Research with the goal of exploiting new discoveries in basic embryonic and stem cell biology.
Let’s take advantage of the great opportunity that exists before arguing that more is needed. The President’s policy holds tremendous and yet-untapped potential, and there is much work to do. Before anyone can successfully argue that the existing federal stem cell policy needs to be broadened, we must first exhaust the potential of the stem cell lines made available within the policy, as well as the ability of the private sector to go beyond the policy. Keep in mind: More lines are available in the United States than any other country in the world. And while federal funding has paid for more than 500 shipments to researchers to date, more than 3,500 shipments are still available. Unlike many countries, there are no limits in the United States on private stem cell research. One study estimates that 1,000 scientists at more than 30 firms spent $208 million experimenting on embryonic and adult stem cells in 2002 alone.
The future is promising. Years of hard work remains to be done before the basic research of today can become viable treatments and cures tomorrow. There is good reason to be optimistic. And this optimism is made possible by the reasoned policy of President Bush.
Fair and reasonable people can disagree on this complex and difficult issue. President Bush made a tough decision that invested in the scientific promise of embryonic stem cell research without compromising an important ethical line. Three years later, it is clear that this balanced approach is working. The future is promising with the new research opportunities provided by President Bush’s historic decision.