US biomedical research funding update

10 March 2009

US President Barack Obama has, as expected,  signed an executive order lifting the effective ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and promised to "vigorously support" new research (see BBC news report), although he also made it clear that only research meeting strict ethical guidelines would be allowed. This excluded any sort of research into human reproductive (as opposed to therapeutic) cloning, of which he said: "It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society". Previous legislation put in place by the Bush administration prevented scientists in the US from using government funding on work utilising stem cells created after 2001 (see previous news).  It is still uncertain at to how long it will take for these changes to be put in place, as precise guidelines on how embryonic stem cells can be used will need to be drafted.

This news comes at a time when President Obama has also created an unprecedented amount of funding for science and technology as part of a stimulus bill to boost the US economy [Mervis, J 2009, Science 323(5919):1274-5]. In addition to providing funds for basic research, this package also includes funding for research into the comparative effectiveness of treatments and it is hoped that some of this funding could go towards developing guidelines on the use of embryonic stem cells for research. The importance of sustaining science and technology was also echoed to some degree in the UK by Prime Minister Gordon Brown who announced that the science and technology budget would not suffer under the current economic climate; however, further government funding for R&D was not offered (see Times report).

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