WASHINGTON Two prominent supporters of stem cell research said on Thursday they had reintroduced a Senate bill that would allow federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, in anticipation of President Barack Obama's support for the work.
Senators Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, and Arlen Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, said their bipartisan measure would allow federal funding for research using stem cells taken from human embryos left over from fertility treatments.
"It is the same bill that both houses of Congress approved in 2007, but was vetoed by President Bush," they said in a statement.
Obama has promised to overturn Bush's policy that strictly limited the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research.
Many groups that support embryonic stem cell research have been eagerly waiting for him to do so, but White House spokesman Robert Gibbs has hinted that Obama would prefer to wait and do something in concert with Congress.
"For too long, political interference has delayed research that holds the promise for millions of Americans who suffer from a wide range of diseases," Harkin said in a statement.
"President Obama has promised to lift the restrictions on embryonic stem cell research that were put in place by President Bush, and I hope and expect that he will do so soon, but we have to make sure that the freedom to pursue this research is also protected by federal law, not merely by an executive order that can be reversed during a future administration."
Specter said legislation would protect the policy "so that it does not ping-pong back and forth with each successive president."
Other senior senators co-sponsored the bill, including liberal Democrats Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Dianne Feinstein of California, as well as conservative Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah.
Stem cells are the body's master cells and those taken from days-old embryos are especially powerful, with the ability to change into all the various cell-types in the body.
Researchers are studying them to try and find ways to regenerate tissues and treat diseases such as Parkinson's, diabetes, cancer and also injuries.
Opponents such as Bush say it is immoral to experiment on or destroy human embryos and say U.S. taxpayers should not have to pay for such research.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro, editing by Philip Barbara)