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Stem cell research takes off. -

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Scientists in the United States say they are just a few years away from a revolutionary advance in
medical technology that could cure such debilitating diseases as diabetes and HIV. President Barack
Obama's decision back in march to overturn the bush administration's veto of funding for embryonic
stem cell research has resulted in an unprecedented acceleration of scientific outcomes.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: Scientists in America are promising a wave of breakthroughs in treating
some of the most stubborn diseases in human medicine as a result of a new funding thrust for
embryonic stem cell research from the Obama administration. Barack Obama campaigned for the
presidency on a platform for change, but his decision in March to overturn the Bush
administration's veto of funding in the field has had a dramatic impact. Scientists are now saying
they're just a few years away from a revolutionary advance in medical technology that could cure
such debilitating diseases as diabetes and HIV and produce much more effective treatments for some
cancers. ABC North America correspondent Michael Brissenden reports.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN, REPORTER: In the last few months, a quiet ripple of excitement has been
cascading through one of the most controversial areas of medical research.

ALAN TROUNSON, CENTER FOR REGENERATIVE MEDICINE: What we are about to see is some really dramatic
things happen, and it's happening much faster than I thought it could possibly happen.

AMY COMSTOCK RICK, COALITION FOR ADVANCEMENT OF MEDICAL RESEARCH: Compared to other fields of
research, this is moving at lightning speed. ... I can't put a timeline, but I will say that the
enthusiasm and the excitement that researchers show for this field of research certainly makes me
believe that we'll be seeing things in the near future.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: For years now this has been one of the most politically-charged areas of modern
medicine, a sci-fi sub-branch of medical technology loaded with promise and ethical complexity. But
the science of embryonic stem cell technology has been moving faster than anyone had thought
possible, and some think medicine as we know it may be about to change forever.

ALAN TROUNSON: I think the world will sort of sit bolt upright when they see what's about to
happen.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Embryonic stem cell research uses embryos left over from IVF programs. There
are hundreds of thousands of such embryos in storage across the United States. But it's research
that stirs up some powerful emotions.

BILL DONAHUE, CATHOLIC LEAGUE OF AMERICA: The question really is this, which we can't skirt: either
human life is present there at the embryonic stage, or it's not. I haven't seen any evidence,
including the people who want to do embryonic stem cell research which argues that humanness is
something which takes place at a period after the embryo is formed. I think that if you're looking
at it through the prism of morality, you have to come down against embryonic stem cell research,
even if it will admittedly help some other segment of the population.

AMY COMSTOCK RICK: I do not understand why it might be considered OK to discard these embryos as
medical waste in a trash bin, but to use them for - to help people with devastating diseases like
Parkinson's or a spinal cord injury or juvenile diabetes, why that is not respectful to life. I
don't understand that.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Inevitably, the ethical challenges of embryonic stem cell research make it a
political minefield as well, and nowhere moreso than here in Washington. It's an issue so powerful
that George Bush used his first presidential veto to block a congressional bill for more stem cell
research funding, and it was also the subject of one of President Obama's first symbolic acts as
his successor.

BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT (March 9): Thank you so much. Well I'm excited too. Today, with the
executive order I am about to sign, we will bring the change that so many scientists and
researchers, doctors and innovators, patients and loved ones have hoped for and fought for these
past eight years. We will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell
research.

ALAN TROUNSON: I think President Barack Obama's decision was quite dramatic. There was a huge lift
in morale in the scientific area.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Australian scientist Alan Trounson is one of the world's leading experts in
stem cell research. Formally with Monash University, he is now President of the California
Institute for Regenerative Medicine. He says the political change of direction in Washington has
opened up a frenzy of new research activity and the science is now racing ahead of the moral
arguments that once constrained it.

ALAN TROUNSON: I think it's unstoppable because, you know, the world's scientists have gravitated
to the area in a dramatic way. So I don't think it is gonna stop.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: As a result, he says we're now just a few years away from significant and
far-reaching breakthroughs, and he's confident that within six to eight years there'll be
widespread participation in trials that could deliver real progress in a number of the most
challenging areas.

ALAN TROUNSON: I think diabetes will be under treatment, I think macular degeneration, which is
loss of central vision, which is very common in our communities, I think HIV, which is not
responsive to the kind of drugs that are available, will certainly be there, there'll be new ways
of treating cancers based on stem cells. Those kind of diseases where, you know, the medisetic
(phonetic spelling) cells get away, hopefully these will be targeted by these new cell strategies.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Human trials in spinal cord reconstruction are already underway, but Alan
Trounson admits that progress on one of the diseases most often mentioned in connection with stem
cell research is still proving to be elusive.

JERRY TIRREL: If someone said there's a clinical trial to test it, I'd be right in the front of the
line.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Like almost everyone with Parkinson's disease, Jerry Tirrel keeps a keen eye on
any sign of scientific process. He says he wants to be at the frontline to help research, not just
to help himself.

JERRY TIRREL: I think that people who study the subject closely realise that might take many years,
probably longer than the life spans of most people who have Parkinson's disease. So it's a benefit
which will be available to the next generation of Parkinson sufferers.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Researchers say they're confident treatments will evolve to give Parkinson
sufferers a better quality of life, but they believe they are much closer to breakthroughs with
other diseases at this point. And scientists like Alan Trounson believe stem cell research will
also soon allow them to tailor medication to individuals rather than to broad disease categories, a
fundamental medical change.

ALAN TROUNSON: I think they call these things tipping points, when things really start to go. I
think we're two to four years off one of these tipping points in this area. If the early studies
and - continue to show such promise as they currently do and if the early clinical trials in the
patients show some promise, the tipping point will go and we'll be into a fantastic new revolution
in human medicine.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Michael Brissenden reporting from Washington.