East Texans react to stem cell research debate

By Molly Reuter - bio | email

EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - For eight years, there's been a ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, but Monday, that's about to change.  President Obama is expected to reverse the ruling made by the Bush Administration, a controversial move that has many people talking.  For scientists, it's an exciting time, but not everyone in East Texas is happy about it.

Scientists around the country say they are overjoyed the government is finally acknowledging the benefits of stem cell research.  Doctor Steven Idell is the Vice President for Research at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Tyler.  Although, the health center does not currently research embryonic stem cells, Idell says the news is welcoming.

"I think it is possible, apart from ones feelings about stem cells, to say they do offer the opportunity to provide new and better therapy for untreatable diseases right now, including alzheimer's, diabetes, heart disease and different forms of cancer, and I think for those reasons it's an exciting scientific opportunity," said Idell.  Idell agrees the President's move is controversial.  Using human embryonic stem cells means altering, or destroying embryos in the process.  It's the reason Reverend Tim Mckeown of Gateway Baptist Church in Whitehouse says he's against it.

"We believe this is truly a life, a living soul that is basically being used for experimentation," said Mckeown.  "For him (President Obama) to say that now we are going to start funding such a controversial issue, is just morally wrong, and it's economically wrong."  Doctor Idell says the morality issue is the reason scientists have found other ways to harvest stem cells.

"Now, it is clear that they can come from for example fat tissue, so it's not necessary to do stem cell research with embryonic stem cells any longer," said Idell.  How scientists around the nation, however, use the federal money, Mckeown says is what he's worried about.

In anticipation of the President's announcement, the National Institute of Health has been working on ethical guidelines for how this research is carried out.