For eight years American scientists have been pointing out that the huge potential benefits of stem cell research deserve a closer look.
For eight years the Bush administration’s ethical concerns held them back, while the rest of the world made headway. Dr. George Daley of Boston Childrens’ Hospital was one of the frustrated researchers. “This is one of the fastest moving areas of science and yet we’ve been restricted. We’ve been operating with one hand tied behind our back,” he said. Stem cells taken from human embryos can be transformed into any different type of human cell and used to replace damaged cells and rebuild bones, muscles, nerves and organs. Sufferers of Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease, diabetics and people with spinal cord injuries have been pinning their hopes for recovery on this research. Actor Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991. He is one sufferer who stands to benefit from the return of funding. He said: “We’re not interested in being exhibitionists with our symptoms or asking for pity or anything else. We’re just resolved to get moving with this science. It’s been a long time.” The embryos used are aged up to five days old and are generally surplus embryos taken from IVF clinics. Critics of the technique insist that an embryo, even at five days, is a human life and must not be destroyed, an argument rejected by scientists like Peter Andrew of the University of Sheffield. Andrew said: “Working with embryos and deriving cell lines from embryos that would be discarded anyway is actually almost ethically better than simply discarding them with no value whatsoever.” British research has been regarded as the world leader in this field. With the lifting of restrictions in the US, that may now change as American experts flock back to billions of dollars of government money after an eight-year exile.