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Senator urges action on stem cells

Says court rulings threaten research

By Jim Abrams
Associated Press / September 17, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Congress should get busy on giving legal stature to government funding of human embryonic stem cell research to avoid giving a final say on the issue to a conservative Supreme Court, a leading Democratic senator said yesterday.

Senator Arlen Specter spoke at a Senate hearing at which scientists also expressed concern about recent court rulings that have disrupted funding for embryonic stem cell research, seen as offering promising potential for treating Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries, and numerous other debilitating illnesses.

“Congress had better get busy and had better act on this subject so we do not wait for court action,’’ said Specter, who earlier this week introduced legislation to codify rules issued by President Obama to ease restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.

Specter, who has had several bouts with Hodgkin’s disease and who is a leading proponent of embryonic stem cell research, cited several recent cases in which the Supreme Court had issued stays on lower court rulings on “ideological grounds.’’

Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat and head of the Senate Appropriations health subcommittee that held the hearing, concurred.

“We’ve come too far to give up now,’’ Harkin said.

The National Institutes of Health has spent more than $500 million on such research, proceeding with federal funding since President George W. Bush in 2001 allowed restricted federal assistance.

But last month US District Court Judge Royce Lamberth issued a preliminary injunction in which he stated that the research violated a 1996 law banning the use of taxpayer money to derive stem cells from embryos. An appeals court has since temporarily stayed that order until it can hear full arguments in the coming weeks.

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