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All sides in stem cell debate claim vindication

  • Story Highlights
  • Teams report reprogramming human skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells
  • Bush: advance is "within ethical boundaries"
  • Harkin: "We need to continue to pursue all alternatives"
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(CNN) -- All sides involved in the controversy over the use of embryonic stem cells in research claimed vindication Tuesday after two teams of researchers reported having reprogrammed human skin cells to act like the stem cells, which have the potential of morphing into other cells and thereby curing disease.

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President Bush has twice vetoed bills that would have eased limits on funding for embryonic stem cell research.

People who believe that life begins at conception liken the destruction of the embryonic stem cells to killing and therefore oppose their use in research. The new research, they said, shows that alternatives are available.

"By avoiding techniques that destroy life, while vigorously supporting alternative approaches, President Bush is encouraging scientific advancement within ethical boundaries," the White House said Tuesday in a written statement on the new research.

Bush has twice vetoed bills that would have eased restrictions on the use of federal funds for research involving embryonic stem cells. Watch Bush state why he opposes the use of stem cells

In August 2001, he limited federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to lines that had already been created.

But some researchers say those cells are not useful.

"The president believes medical problems can be solved without compromising either the high aims of science or the sanctity of human life," the White House statement said. "We will continue to encourage scientists to expand the frontiers of stem cell research and continue to advance the understanding of human biology in an ethically responsible way."Video Watch a Harvard expert talk about what's next in stem cell research »

"This breakthrough provides further evidence that the most promising avenues of stem cell research are also the most ethical," concurred Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, a physician. "Politicians should note that the scientific community is moving rapidly without the assistance of laws requiring the taxpayer-funded destruction of human life."

He added, "This breakthrough helps vindicate President Bush's policy and his vetoes of Congress' short-sighted and outdated approach to stem cell research. History will note the wisdom of President Bush's refusal to set a dangerous precedent that could not be easily undone."

And Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said he believes "that the current stem cell policy has been very important in driving the discovery of ethical and successful ways for scientists to find treatments and cures.

"What has too often been missing from this important debate is a simple fact of modern science: Encouraging medical research and protecting the sanctity of life are not mutually exclusive goals."

The methods described in the papers about the new research "should continue to be pursued and strongly promoted, as they should help to steer the entire field of stem cell research in a more explicitly ethical direction by circumventing the moral quagmire associated with destroying human embryos," said the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in a posting on its Web site.

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But those views were not shared by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who has pushed for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research and said he will continue to do so.

"Our top researchers recognize that this new development does not mean that we should discontinue studying embryonic stem cells," he said in a written statement. "Scientists may yet find that embryonic stem cells are more powerful. We need to continue to pursue all alternatives as we search for treatments for diabetes, Parkinson's and spinal cord injuries."

He added that Tuesday's announcement "reiterates the need for federal support for medical research and again points out the president's misplaced priorities in vetoing the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill which included a substantial increase for the National Institutes of Health."

A lead author of one of the landmark studies, James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, urged that reprogrammed cells not wholly supplant embryonic stem cells in research.

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"I don't like the idea of pulling the plug," he told reporters in a conference call.

He added that Tuesday's advances in reprogramming cells would not have been possible without the advancements in embryonic stem cell research over the past decade. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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