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First lady: Stem-cell research ethical balancing act

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The death of former President Reagan has renewed the debate on stem cell research.

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Laura Bush

SEA ISLAND, Georgia (CNN) -- First lady Laura Bush, whose father died of Alzheimer's disease -- the same illness that afflicted Ronald Reagan -- said the nation needs to treat the issue of stem-cell research with delicacy.

Many scientists believe stem-cell research has the potential to lead to a cure for Alzheimer's and other diseases.

"Everyone supports stem-cell research and so did the president and there are embryonic lines for research. It's a very delicate balance between what we want to do for science and for research and what is ethically and morally right to do," Laura Bush said.

President Bush signed an executive order in 2001 banning the use of federal funds to harvest new lines of stem cells for medical research.

Stem cells typically are taken from days-old human embryos and then grown in a laboratory into lines or colonies. Because the embryos are destroyed when the cells are extracted, the process is opposed by some conservatives who link it to abortion.

Critics complain that only 19 of those lines are now available to researchers and those available are contaminated with mouse feeder cells which makes their use for humans uncertain. (Full story)

Nancy Reagan, however, has called for expanding stem-cell research -- a call that has come to the forefront after the death of her husband.

"Now science has presented us with a hope called stem-cell research, which may provide our scientists with many answers that have for so long been beyond our grasp," Mrs. Reagan told an audience last month in Los Angeles. "I just don't see how we can turn our backs on this."

Laura Bush called Nancy Reagan an "unbelievable role model" for attending to former President Reagan as he declined from the debilitating disease.

"I know how difficult the disease is on caregivers," the first lady said.

She said that there are both adult stem cell lines and embryonic stem cell lines available for research, and added, "We all want a cure for Alzheimer's."

Asked whether the federal spending on embryonic stem cell research should remain as it is or be increased, Laura Bush replied: "We need to be really very delicate about it."

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