Nobel Prize Winner Defends Stem-Cell Research

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New York – A Nobel Prize-winning scientist raised concerns about President George W. Bush’s restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research during a recent visit to Fordham.

“There is a clear threat to our basic intellectual freedom and the age of enlightenment in the United States because [scientists]are not allowed to research embryonic stem cells,” said Sidney Altman, Ph.D., professor of cell, molecular and developmental biology and of chemistry at Yale University. “This is the first time a law has been prepared that will prevent us from investigating legitimate scientific interests.”

Altman, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1989 for discovering catalytic RNA, delivered the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ annual Gannon Lecture on Feb. 16 in Flom Auditorium on the Rose Hill campus.

Debate over using embryonic stem cells for research began early in President Bush’s first term, when he banned federal funding for such research. The ban stemmed from the president’s belief that the embryos from which the cells were derived represented human life and from concern that such research could lead to human cloning. In 2001, the president allowed scientists working in government labs to conduct research using  72 existing lines of stem cells. But by 2003, most of those cells were exhausted.

Altman stressed that there is “zero interest” among scientists in using embryonic cells to make human clones, and he is not sure it is even possible. Instead, he said that the research would be used to investigate cures for diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, heart, diabetes and certain types of cancer.

The Gannon Lecture Series, which began in the fall of 1980, brings distinguished individuals to Fordham to deliver public lectures on topics of their expertise. It is named in honor of Robert I. Gannon, S.J., president of Fordham University from 1936 to 1949.

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