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Scientists Hope to Renew Stem Cell Advances

Stem cell scientists anticipate a loosening of federal research funding restrictions under the Obama administration despite otherwise shrinking budgets. Spencer Michels reports on where stem cell research stands and how scientists think it may change in the coming years.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, the changing science and politics of stem-cell research. President Obama has said he will soon lift restrictions on using federal funds for such work; that would reverse the Bush administration policy.

    NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels has our Science Unit report.

    SPENCER MICHELS, NewsHour correspondent: Three days into the new administration, the Geron Corporation got permission from the Food and Drug Administration to start human trials using stem cells.

  • THOMAS OKARMA, CEO, Geron:

    This is the world's first attempt to use embryonic stem cells in people.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    Thomas Okarma, Geron's CEO, said the embryonic stem cells will be used to try to repair damage to the spinal cord. Stem cells can turn into mature, specialized cells like spinal cord, or heart, or cartilage, and can replace diseased or injured ones.

    In this animated video, Geron shows how it already used stem cells with rats.

  • THOMAS OKARMA:

    We take the animal under anesthesia and we open up the spinal cord. And we give the animal a very precise damage to the cord that resembles the damage in a automobile accident.

    Then, within two weeks of the injury, we inject the human cells that we make from embryonic stem cells and, after several weeks, we see dramatic and sustained improvement in the animal's locomotion, its body control, its paw placement, and that improvement is permanent.

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