With the Detroit Three dominating the headlines and people’s minds in Michigan, it’s easy to forget that this state’s economic future rests with more than just car companies. Research is Michigan’s future, and embryonic stem cell research is one of the areas where progress is most eminent. Before that progress occurs, though, some things at the national level need to change. When Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress take over in January, they must work to quickly reverse Bush-era policies restricting stem cell research, allowing for both medical progress and an immediate surge in scientific innovation at the nation’s universities.

Stem cell research is considered the cutting edge of biomedical innovation. It involves using undeveloped stem cells from adult tissues or embryos to create or program new cells. Because of this flexibility, some believe stem cells can lead to cures for some of humanity’s worst diseases, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

In passing Proposal 2 last month, voters in Michigan expressed their faith in the potential for embryonic stem cell research to cure deadly diseases. The proposal will allow researchers to study embryos rejected by fertility clinics in order to experiment with curing diseases and to further understand their progression. A majority of Michiganders believes that stem cell research is a necessary element of modern medical science and, as a result, the University of Michigan faces unprecedented opportunities to engage in such discovery.

But scientists’ ability to study stem cells has been significantly curtailed by the federal government. In 2001, President Bush decided limit federal funding for stem cell research only to those stem cell lines that had been derived at that time. It also restricted funding for embryonic stem cell research. Since then, Bush has twice vetoed legislation that would have expanded research into embryonic stem cells, though he tried to assuage his opponents by issuing an executive order in 2007 promoting pluripotent stem cells. Meanwhile, paramount research has gone underfunded, and people around the world continue to suffer from diseases that stem cell research might be able to cure.

President Obama will have the opportunity to sign key Congressional bills and to reverse Bush’s executive decisions with relative ease. While it’s clear that he will do so at some point, Obama should make an effort to reverse these policies very soon so that universities can access public funds and researchers can begin life-saving research as soon as possible.

Such a federal effort would work hand in hand with the recent ballot proposal decision in Michigan. If Congress and Obama act soon, Michigan can become a key place to lead this research. Universities like our own can attract top-notch researchers to begin these projects — a boast for the state and these universities — and, more importantly, begin finding cures. Michigan can also petition for desperately needed federal grants and bring in private investment for these projects. All this adds up to an economic solution for Michigan and a medical solution for the state and the country.

If Obama is speedy in reviewing previous policies restricting embryonic stem cell research, patients, the medical profession and research institutions have a tremendously brighter future.

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