Supporters welcome federal backing of stem cell research
Posted March 9, 2009 6:30 p.m. EDT
Updated March 9, 2009 6:58 p.m. EDT
Durham, N.C. — At 3 months old, Megan Dean is undergoing chemotherapy to try to combat Hurler Syndrome.
The deadly genetic disorder damages the brain and can cause organs such as the heart, liver and spleen to enlarge.
But recent breakthroughs in stem cell research from umbilical cord blood, means that Megan will get a transplant this Friday that could save her life.
"I do know that if it hadn't been for the stem cell research, she wouldn't have the opportunity she has right now," Megan's grandmother, Cheryl Dean, said."
It's such medical advancements that has doctors like Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, with Duke University Medical Center, excited about the possibilities of more research on embryonic stem cells.
President Obama on Monday signed an executive order that allows federal taxpayer dollars to fund significantly broader research on embryonic stem cells. The order reverses former President George W. Bush's 2001 directive that banned such research.
"Embryonic cells have enormous potential because they can turn into any kind of cell in the body," Kutzberg said.
Kurtzberg says that by allowing federal funding, research companies can study embryonic stem cells for discovery as opposed to just making profit or for developing a product.
That means potential treatment for illnesses such as Parkinson's Disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzeimers and diabetes, Kurtzberg says.
"There are so many people with diseases that we have no therapies for that, I believe, cells will help," Kutzberg said. "And I think many other scientists believe cells will be the answer."
But not everyone agrees.
Bishop Michael Burbidge, of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, and other opponents say using federal funding to perform stem cell research on human embryos is wrong and immoral.
"In the name of science, research, the destruction the taking of human life can never be justified," Burbidge said. "Today's decision is taking us in the wrong direction. God gives us the knowledge. I just think we need to use it."
Other opponents say they are not opposed to embryonic stem cell research but that they do oppose federal backing because it is destroying human life.
For Megan Dean, embryonic stem cells could one day save her life. Her older sister died from the same disease she has now.
Her family says opening the door for more research might give more children a chance.
Doctors say Monday's order is a start but that it will take years of research before embryonic stem cells will be used to treat diseases.