Obama to let health institute decide on stem cells

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – President Barack Obama will  lift his predecessor’s restriction on federal funding of human  embryonic stem cell research today and will give the  National Institutes of Health four months to come up with new  rules on the issue, officials said yesterday.

Obama will not lay out guidelines himself but will let the  NIH decide when it is ethical and legal to pay for embryonic  stem cell research, science adviser Dr. Harold Varmus said. Researchers and advocates have been invited to a White  House ceremony at which Obama will make the announcement, said  Melody Barnes, director of Obama’s domestic policy council. He  will also sign a pledge to “restore scientific integrity in  governmental decision making,” Barnes said.

“He believes that by signing them he’s going to continue to  fulfill the promises that he made over the 20-plus months on  the campaign,” Barnes told reporters in a conference call.

“And the president believes that it’s particularly  important to sign this memorandum so that we can put science  and technology back at the heart of achieving a broad range of  national goals.”

Former President George W. Bush was accused by scientists  and politicians of injecting politics and sometimes religion  into scientific decisions regarding not only stem cells, but  climate change policy, energy policy and contraceptive policy. Barnes said scrapping the restriction on federal funding  imposed by Bush would help to create jobs and strengthen  national security.

Varmus said Obama will give the NIH 120 days come up with a  framework to govern the use of federal funds to work with human  embryonic stem cells.

A law called the Dickey Amendment limits the use of federal  money to actually make the powerful stem cells, because they  must be taken from human embryos. So federal research money can  currently be used only to work with cells that were made using  other sources of funds.

“The president, in effect, is allowing federal funding on  human embryonic stem cells research to the extent that is  allowed by law,” said Varmus, a former NIH director who is also  president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New  York and an adviser to Obama.

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