* Move reverses Bush restrictions
* Obama promises strict guidelines for stem cell research
* Shares of stem cell companies surge
* Congress to move next
(Adds quotes on future Congressional action)
By David Alexander
WASHINGTON, March 9 Shares in stem cell
companies soared, scientists gushed and activists cheered on
Monday as President Barack Obama signed an order lifting eight
years of restrictions on federal funding of human embryonic
stem cell research.
Obama's executive order reversed and repudiated
restrictions placed on the research by his predecessor George
W. Bush, freeing labs across the country to start working with
the valued cells, which give birth to all cells and tissues in
the body. [ID:nN08329064]
"By doing this, we will ensure America's continued global
leadership in scientific discoveries and technological
breakthroughs," Obama told a packed White House ceremony.
Shares of stem cell leader Geron Inc.(GERN.O), which won
government permission in January to test embryonic stem cells
in human patients, were up 16 percent at $4.50 a share soon
after the signing. [ID:nN09446661].
Researchers said companies that have been afraid to test
the waters will likely leap in now that federal dollars can be
used to do the most risky and experimental basic research.
"It is a relief from the bureaucratic and accounting
nightmares that have slowed our work, discouraged young
scientists, and delayed progress for nearly eight years," said
Dr. Douglas Melton of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, who uses
stem cells to try to cure juvenile diabetes and other
Diana DeGette and Mike Castle, two members of Congress who
pushed legislation to bypass the Bush restrictions, said they
would press to turn Obama's decision into legislation.
"Mike and I both feel that our immediate and top priority
is to codify the executive order and pass the legislation that
we have passed twice before and that was vetoed by President
Bush twice," DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, told reporters. "Our
legislation is already prepared and introduced."
But DeGette and Castle, a Delaware Republican, said they
would not take on the Dickey-Wicker amendment, which prevents
the use of federal funds to actually extract the stem cells
from human embryos.
"I think the Dickey-Wicker decision perhaps could be done
later," Castle said.
Not everyone was happy. "Obama opens door to human embryo
farms", the National Right to Life Committee said in a
"If an embryo is a life, and I believe strongly that it is
life, then no government has the right to sanction their
destruction for research purposes," said Kansas Senator Sam
Obama said he respected such sentiments but rejected them.
"As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each
other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been
given the capacity and will to pursue this research -- and the
humanity and conscience to do so responsibly," he said.
Michael Werner of the Coalition for the Advancement of
Medical Research, an advocacy group, said states such as
California and New York that had established their own stem
cell research groups stood to gain from the change.
"The states that stepped out in front will have an
advantage," Werner said in a telephone interview.
"It's never a waste to invest in medical research, I would
argue. But from sort of a crass economic perspective, I think
those states and those institutions and those researchers are
going to be the ones who are going to be really rewarded now."
Aides said Obama would not dictate details about how stem
cell research should be overseen but would give the National
Institutes of Health 120 days to come up with guidelines.
Obama also signed a presidential memorandum directing the
head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
to develop a strategy for "restoring scientific integrity to
government decision making."
For years critics accused Bush of subverting scientific
findings to appease his conservative political and religious
base, not only on stem cells but on climate change policy,
energy and reproductive and end of life issues.
(Reporting by David Alexander, Will Dunham and Maggie Fox in
Washington and Toni Clarke in Boston; Editing by Chris Wilson)