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Miller School Experts Discuss Lifting of Stem Cell Ban

3/10/2009

From CNN to NPR Radio to The Miami Herald, Miller School physicians and scientists spoke to a wide array of news organizations Monday regarding President Obama’s decision to lift the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

With palpable excitement and relief, Miller School stem cell experts told journalists that Obama’s ending the eight-year ban instituted by the preceding administration bodes well for areas ranging from spinal cord injury to diabetes.

They also assured journalists that stem cell research at the Miller School and nationwide will be conducted with the utmost regard for ethical and human rights concerns.

“Many of us have been involved with stem cell work and have been limited in our abilities to conduct the work, because of the embargo on embryonic stem cell research,” Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., said at a news conference in the Clinical Research Building.

“What stems cells bring is an absolutely wonderful opportunity, once an organ has been damaged by chronic illnesses, to actually restore functionality and health for that organ,” Goldschmidt informed reporters from TV channels 4, 6, 7 and 10, WLRN-FM, WIOD-AM, and The Miami Herald.

Also present was Joshua Hare, M.D., director of UM’s Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute. “I think the lifting of the ban also needs to be viewed in the context of the very significant additional funding that the federal government is providing for research in general,” said Hare, whose specialty is heart stem cells, and who later spoke to CNN, MSNBC and CNN International.

“There’s a $10 billion supplement for the National Institutes of Health, as far as the stimulus package is concerned,” Hare said. “So this lifting of the embryonic stem cell ban actually has some muscle behind it, because now there’s real money that will go into stem cell research.”

A third press conference attendee, Ian McNiece, Ph.D., is director of experimental and cell based therapies for the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute. McNiece, who did follow-up interviews with Associated Press TV and NPR Radio, is primarily concerned with getting stem cell developments from the lab to bedside.

 “One of the limitations that President Bush’s ban had on stem cell work was that those stem cell lines that were approved were not suitable for the treatment of patients,” McNiece told the press. “This decision by President Obama will have a major impact on how we can move these advances into patient care.”

W. Dalton Dietrich, Ph.D., scientific director of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, told reporters that doing away with the embryonic stem cell ban should have a galvanizing effect on prospective stem cell researchers.

“The ban actually inhibited young investigators from opting for stem cell therapy research,” he said. “Lifting the ban is now going to entice that group to come in.”

Goldschmidt promised journalists that stem cell research will be conducted in a manner that safeguards against unethical practices. “There have to be very appropriate oversight by groups of citizens, by religious groups and others, to make sure that everything that’s being done is ethical and consistent with human rights,” Goldschmidt said.