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Obama Renews Support for Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Obama Renews Support for Embryonic Stem Cell Research

U.S. Senator Barack Obama today released the following statement during the debate on the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act:

I stand in full support of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act as I did when this bill was introduced and sent to the President's desk in the 109th Congress. I am proud to be an original cosponsor of this bill.

I am frustrated by the opposition this bill has generated and saddened that we are preventing the advancement of important science that could potentially impact millions of suffering Americans. The study of stem cells holds enormous promise for the treatment of debilitating and life-threatening diseases. However, in order to reach this level of medical achievement, much more research is necessary to understand, and eventually harness, the amazing potential of stem cells. Instead of creating roadblocks, we must all work together to expand federal funding of stem cell research and continue moving forward in our fight against disease by advancing our knowledge through science and medicine.

Each year, 100,000 Americans will develop Alzheimer's disease, with impaired memory, ability to understand, and judgment. Over 1 million adults will be diagnosed with diabetes this year, and risk complications that include blindness, damaged nerves and loss of kidney function. We all know or have met individuals with spinal cord injuries, including national celebrities, local war heroes and loved ones from our own families and circles of friends, who are struggling to maintain mobility and independence.

For most of our history, medicine has offered little hope of recovery to the 100 million individuals affected by these and other devastating illnesses and injuries.

Until now.

Recent developments in stem cell research may hold the key to improved treatments, if not cures, for those affected by Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, spinal cord injury and countless other conditions.

Many men, women, and children who are cancer survivors are already familiar with the life-saving applications of adult stem cell research. Patients with leukemia or lymphoma often undergo bone marrow transplants, a type of stem cell transplant, which can significantly prolong life, or permanently get rid of the cancer. This therapy has been used successfully for decades, and is saving lives everyday.

Yet this breakthrough has its serious limitations. Adult stem cells, such as those used in bone marrow transplants, can only be collected in small quantities, may not be a match for the patient, which can lead to rejection, and have limited ability to differentiate, or transform into specialized cells.

Similarly, the promising advances of stem cell use from a patient's own cord blood, as illustrated by the success stories of Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg from Duke University, also have their limitations. If, for example, a young cord blood recipient's condition should deteriorate after his or her initial treatment, or should develop another illness, there simply are not enough cord blood cells left for a second use. The few remaining cells would have to be cloned to get enough cells for future treatment, or stem cells would have to be obtained from another source.

Two of my constituents, Mary Schneider and her son Ryan, are well aware of the potential of cord blood treatments. Her son, diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 2 years of age, has made what appears to be a full recovery after treatment with his own cord blood. Despite the compelling results witnessed by the Schneider family, they also firmly believe and support expanded research of embryonic stem cells to combat disease.

A recent scientific paper about stem cells derived from amniotic fluid has drawn much attention. While this offers an exciting alternative to regenerative medicine therapies, the author of that report, Dr. Anthony Atala, has himself urged that his work on amniotic stem cells will not replace the continued need for investigation into treatments with stem cells derived from embryos.

All of these alternative treatments are just that, alternatives, and are not substitutes for embryonic stem cell research.

Embryonic stem cells can be obtained from a number of sources, including in vitro fertilization. At this very moment, there are over 400,000 embryos being stored in over 400 facilities throughout the United States. The majority of these are reserved for infertile couples. However, many of these embryos will go unused, destined for permanent storage in a freezer or disposal. We should expand and accelerate research using these embryos, just as we should continue to explore the viability of adult stem cell use, cord blood use, and amniotic fluid use.

The promise of embryonic stem cells has come to light in a recent achievement by researchers at Johns Hopkins. They were able to repair damaged nerves and restore mobility in paralyzed rats through embryonic stem cells. One can't help but wonder when, not if, this research will be translated into techniques that will help human patients who have lost the ability to walk.

Of course any work in this area must have appropriate oversight. Embryonic stem cell research demands comprehensive, thoughtful and carefully crafted ethical and scientific guidelines. We must not only look to guidance from the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration but also to our reason, our morals and our compassion.

The President's veto of the stem cell bill proposed in the last Congress prevents government funding beyond 78 previously established stem cell lines. However, recent estimates on the number of viable cell lines bring the numbers down closer to 20. Clearly, we are moving backwards in our efforts with these current restrictions. Stymieing embryonic stem cell research is a step in the wrong direction. It closes the door on many Americans awaiting new treatments that could potentially provide a better quality of life, or, perhaps, even save their life.

My hope, and the hope of so many in this country, is to provide our researchers with the means to explore the uses of embryonic stem cells so that we can begin to turn the tide on the devastating diseases affecting our nation and the world.

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