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Supporters of Stem Cell Research Win Critical Ally

President Bush is in the process of deciding the controversial issue of spending government money on embryonic stem cell research. As CBS News medical correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports, supporters of the research got a boost today from an influential senator.

"It's important; it's evolving science," says Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, a doctor and conservative Republican who has President Bush's ear on all matters medical, testified that the research must go forward with federal funds.

"I believe that within the appropriate ethical construct we can use that tissue for the benefit of hundreds of others, thousands of others, maybe millions of others," says Frist.

Embryonic stem cell research has caused an epic collision of politics, religion, and cutting-edge science.

The tiny bundles of cells--no bigger than a pencil point--contain the blueprints to become any kind of cell in the body, from spinal cord to beating heart. Experts believe they have the power to treat many diseases.

The controversy lies in where the cells come from--frozen human embryos, which get destroyed in the process.

"The principle being denied here is the dignity of the young human, effectively making the embryo equal to plant or animal life," says Republican senator Sam Brownback of Kansas.

Opponents of embryonic stem cell research argue that there are alternatives, namely adult stem cells not taken from embryos but extracted from other human tissues, including bone marrow and blood.

Dr. Neil Theise's research on adult stem cells in mice suggests they too have potential, but are not nearly as flexible in becoming other cell types as their embryonic cousins are. To study one and not the other is a mistake, he says.

"In the absence of federal funding for embryonic stem cells, I think that will slow down the development of all the therapeutic possibilities of adult stem cells as well," says Theise, a researcher at the New York University Medical Center.

That may be too slow for Shelbie Oppenhiemer, a 34-year-old mother with Lou Gehrig's disease who is urging President Bush to look beyond the politics.

"When he's looking at a frozen embryo that's going to be discarded and when he's looking at me--a loving mommy who just wants to spend more time with her daughter--I would ask him to choose and value life and I would ask for it to be mine," says Oppenhiemer.

The pressure is on from mothers, scientists and now trusted fellow Republicans urging President Bush to find a compromise. He is expected to make a decision in the next few weeks.
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