President Barack Obama is expected to sign an executive order on Monday rolling back restrictions on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, fulfilling a campaign promise and repealing one of the most bone-headed stances taken by his predecessor, George W. Bush.
News of Obama's expected order, which is tentatively scheduled to be signed at 11 a.m. Monday at the White House, is quite welcomed at UC Irvine, which is one of the foremost medical and scientific research institutions in the country.
"The executive order represents a realignment of federal policy with the current sentiment and state of research in the nation," said Hans Keirstead, co-director of UCI's Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center and an anatomy and neurobiology associate professor who is affiliated with the Reeve-Irvine Research Center, in a statement just released by the university. Keirstead developed a human embryonic stem cell therapy for acute spinal cord injury that will become the first ever tested in humans.
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"It will have the effect of accelerating the pace of advances, encouraging the next generation of stem cells scientists to enter the field, and encourage investment in the sector," he said of a lifting of the ban. "But most importantly, it will restore this nation with the most researchers and the most research dollars to the forefront of stem cell research."
Susan Bryant, UCI's vice chancellor for research and a developmental biologist who frequently speaks on the scientific and ethical issues surrounding stem cells, believes the order will usher in great things for local researchers.
"I expect that California scientists will be very competitive when these funds become available because they have already benefited by establishing research programs, training the next generation of scientists, and building state-of-the-art facilities with California Institute for Regenerative Medicine funds," said Bryant, who is a member of the California Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee, the regenerative medicine institute's governing board.
"This decision will remove critical barriers that have impeded progress in the stem cell field," said Peter Donovan, co-director of the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center and a developmental and cell biology and biological chemistry professor. Donovan conducts pioneering research into the basic properties of stem cells, and his laboratory focuses on the genetic and environmental signals controlling stem cell behavior.
"We can now use all our facilities and resources for this important work," Donovan said. "It also sends an important signal to young researchers thinking of entering this field that they can do so knowing it has a secure future."