March 10, 2009


Looks like the entire blogosphere is abuzz with the news of President Obama's reversal of the foolhardy Bush philosophy of restricting stem cell research. So there isn't much to say that everyone else hasn't already said, and will just join everyone in the celebrations and jubilations.

After the signing of this Executive Order, the federal funding ban is now lifted and scientist researchers will now have government support and tax dollars to carry out lines of research that will bring advances as amazing as the growing of new organs for transplantation. As for the neuroscience field, stem cells (from monkey teeth!) will achieve fabulous things such as stimulating the growth and regeneration of brain cells. In this one example, Huang et al. (2008) at Emory University implanted dental pulp stem cells from the teeth of rhesus macaque monkeys were placed in a murine hippocampus. Cells born 7 days after the implantation went on to form neurons and neural progenitor cells (NPCs), and by 30 days indications of astrogliosis were observed. Astrogliosis refers to an increase in the number of astrocytes, a type of glial cell that performs many supportive functions to the brain including tissue regeneration following injury, as well as maintenance of the blood-brain barrier. In short, monkey stem cells promoted growth, cell recruitment and maturation of of repair responses in mice brains. How great is that?!

There is already talk of stem cells being used in connection with Alzheimer's, Huntington's and Parkinson's Disease. Who knows what the future will bring? Scientists have been seething that such positive and encouraging research has been stifled, if not blocked altogether, by the Bush administration's myopic and misguided view that has more concerns with, surprise surprise, political ideology and the religious right. And now, thanks to President Obama's move, research can go on and the (US) National Institutes of Health have four months to set guidelines. Not bad at all.

And what more, Obama has issued a presidential memorandum that protects scientific research from political influence. So hopefully no one will think of messing around in the future. Below is the official text of the memorandum:

Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security.

The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions. Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions. If scientific and technological information is developed and used by the Federal Government, it should ordinarily be made available to the public. To the extent permitted by law, there should be transparency in the preparation, identification, and use of scientific and technological information in policymaking. The selection of scientists and technology professionals for positions in the executive branch should be based on their scientific and technological knowledge, credentials, experience, and integrity.

By this memorandum, I assign to the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (Director) the responsibility for ensuring the highest level of integrity in all aspects of the executive branch's involvement with scientific and technological processes. The Director shall confer, as appropriate, with the heads of executive departments and agencies, including the Office of Management and Budget and offices and agencies within the Executive Office of the President (collectively, the "agencies"), and recommend a plan to achieve that goal throughout the executive branch.

Specifically, I direct the following:

1. Within 120 days from the date of this memorandum, the Director shall develop recommendations for Presidential action designed to guarantee scientific integrity throughout the executive branch, based on the following principles:
(a) The selection and retention of candidates for science and technology positions in the executive branch should be based on the candidate's knowledge, credentials, experience, and integrity;
(b) Each agency should have appropriate rules and procedures to ensure the integrity of the scientific process within the agency;
(c) When scientific or technological information is considered in policy decisions, the information should be subject to well-established scientific processes, including peer
review where appropriate, and each agency should appropriately and accurately reflect that information in complying with and applying relevant statutory standards;
(d) Except for information that is properly restricted from disclosure under procedures established in accordance with statute, regulation, Executive Order, or Presidential Memorandum, each agency should make available to the public the scientific or technological findings or conclusions considered or relied on in policy decisions;
(e) Each agency should have in place procedures to identify and address instances in which the scientific process or the integrity of scientific and technological information may be compromised; and
(f) Each agency should adopt such additional procedures, including any appropriate whistleblower protections, as are necessary to ensure the integrity of scientific and technological information and processes on which the agency relies in its decisionmaking or otherwise uses or prepares.

2. Each agency shall make available any and all information deemed by the Director to be necessary to inform the Director in making recommendations to the President as requested by this memorandum. Each agency shall coordinate with the Director in the development of any interim procedures deemed necessary to ensure the integrity of scientific decisionmaking pending the Director's recommendations called for by this memorandum.

3. (a) Executive departments and agencies shall carry out the provisions of this memorandum to the extent permitted by law and consistent with their statutory and regulatory authorities and their enforcement mechanisms.
(b) Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) authority granted by law to an executive department, agency, or the head thereof; or
(ii) functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(c) This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity, by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

4. The Director is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.


Sounds fairly reasonable.

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