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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

State of the Union & Science

While President Bush's speech last night focused on the war and the economy, he also made some remarks with regard to stem cell research. "On matters of life and science, we must trust in the innovative spirit of medical researchers and empower them to discover new treatments while respecting moral boundaries. In November, we witnessed a landmark achievement when scientists discovered a way to reprogram adult skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells. This breakthrough has the potential to move us beyond the divisive debates of the past by extending the frontiers of medicine without the destruction of human life," he said to applause. "So we're expanding funding for this type of ethical medical research. And, as we explore promising avenues of research, we must also ensure that all life is treated with the dignity it deserves. And so I call on Congress to pass legislation that bans unethical practices such as the buying, selling, patenting or cloning of human life." The president's convictions are nothing new, but they still run up against the beliefs of virtually all stem cell scientists, who maintain that embryonic stem cell research is still crucial; adult cells cannot substitute for embryonic stem cells, which have the proven capacity to become every kind of cell in the human body. From a scientific perspective, Christopher Thomas Scott, executive director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics Program on Stem Cells and Society, told Science & Spirit, we need to pursue all avenues in "a robust research effort, one that is agnostic to cell type." —Heather Wax