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DRI Hails Decision to Lift Federal Stem Cell Restrictions

Juan Dominguez-Bendala, Ph.D., who leads diabetes stem cell research as the DRI’s Director of Stem Cell Development for Translational Research.

Miami, FL (March 9, 2009) -- Calling it “excellent news,” scientists at the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) are hailing President Obama’s executive order which overturns federal limits on embryonic stem cell research.

“This decision is excellent news, particularly for laboratories such as ours at the DRI,” said Juan Dominguez-Bendala, Ph.D., who leads diabetes stem cell research as the DRI’s Director of Stem Cell Development for Translational Research.

Today’s action overturns President George W. Bush’s executive order in August 2001. It barred the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from funding research on embryonic stem cells beyond using 60 cell lines that existed at that time.

President Obama’s decision “means that we will not be restricted to a handful of cell lines when applying for federal funding,” said Dominguez-Bendala.

Despite the federal limits, the DRI has aggressively pursued embryonic stem cell research – using new stem cell lines – by relying on private funding. This was permitted, as long as scientists carefully separated federally-approved stem cells from those non-approved.

“We had to address difficult logistic complications,” Dominguez-Bendala said. “By eliminating the arbitrary distinction between ‘presidential’ and ‘non-presidential’ cell lines, now the process will be enormously simplified.”

Stem cells are immature cells that have the potential to develop into many different cell types in the body. DRI scientists focusing on diabetes stem cell research are trying to turn them into insulin-producing islet cells, and have been making significant progress using emerging techologies.

While the lifting of federal restrictions is good news, Dominguez-Bendala cautions that it will not have an immediate impact.

“It’s not going to result in an overnight revolution,” he said. “What is needed at this point, to significantly accelerate the pace of diabetes stem cell research, is a sustained increase in the amount of federal money.”

For more information, please contact:

Mitra Zehtab, M.D., MBAChief Operating OfficerDiabetes Research Institute
mzehtab@med.miami.edu

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