Since 1994, Congress has prohibited federal financing for embryo experiments. Scientists have long complained that such funding is needed to fully explore the potential benefits of embryonic stem cells, which divide to become all the cells needed in the human body and which may offer treatments for Alzheimer's and other diseases.
Barack Obama's transition chief, John Podesta, said Sunday that the president-elect is reviewing President George W. Bush's executive orders. Bush has long held that any research that destroys embryos is immoral. "There's a lot that the president can do using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action, and I think we'll see the president do that," Podesta said. "I think that he feels like he has a real mandate for change."
The federal funding limit is supported by opponents of abortion rights. Obama has supported the research. Many moderate Republicans also support the research, giving it the stamp of bipartisanship, according to AP.
Research in recent years, meanwhile, has raised optimism that similar research could be done using skin cells, cells from amniotic fluid or cells from dead embryos. In 2007, Bush vetoed a bill that would have eased federal constraints on funding embryonic stem cell research, while simultaneously issuing an executive order directing the Health and Human Services Department to promote research into the other types of cells that hold the potential.
But others argue that reliance on these other methods, which have known limitations, could stifle true embryonic stem cell research and lead to dead ends.
From the LiveScience Water Cooler.