MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) – A Nobel laureate in medicine said Monday the Bush administration’s limits on embryonic stem cell research effectively have stopped the clock on American scientists’ efforts to develop treatments for a host of chronic, debilitating diseases.

“This is a topic of science and medicine, but it’s a topic that’s become embroiled in politics,” H. Robert Horvitz, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology biologist, said at an Elliot Hospital forum organized by Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s campaign.

Embryonic stem cells are cultured from leftover, 5-day-old embryos created for infertility treatment. They would be discarded if not used for research, with the permission of the infertile couple, Horvitz said. Embryonic stem cell lines were first successfully cultured in 1998.

Three years ago, President Bush – concerned that harvesting the cells required the destruction of human embryos – limited federally funded research to a few dozen existing cell lines.

Only 21 of the initial 78 stem cell lines are available to researchers now. Scientists say more than 100 new lines have been developed since Bush’s cutoff date, some of which are much better suited for research.

Stem cell research was the focus of a weekend symposium that drew scientists from across the nation to Bar Harbor, Maine. The event was sponsored by Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory and The Jackson Laboratory.

Horvitz, speaking at the Kerry campaign forum, said researchers need access to diverse embryonic stem cell lines so they can develop treatments that are good genetic matches for patients of different races and ethnic backgrounds.

Horvitz, whose father died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, said research and treatments derived from embryonic stem cells have the potential to help future sufferers of brain diseases, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and cancer.

“Some people who oppose embryonic stem cell research say the problem of curing these diseases is very far in the future,” he said. “My response is: Let’s get on with it.”

Embryonic stem cell research will not yield quick results in some areas, but in others, treatments could be available within a decade, he said.

“In 10 years, a child with a spinal cord injury may be able to walk – if we start now,” the 2002 Nobel Prize winner said.

Ann McLane Kuster, vice-chairwoman of New Hampshire Women for Kerry, made an emotional appeal for lifting the restrictions. Her mother, former Republican state Sen. Susan McLane suffers from Alzheimer’s and no longer can stand or speak, she said.

“Advances in stem cell research are being held hostage by the extreme right,” she said. “This is emotional. This is about our future, our children, our parents, and we cannot let ideology determine our future.”

She said it is a bipartisan issue, noting that U.S. Reps. Charles Bass and Jeb Bradley, both New Hampshire Republicans, support lifting the restrictions.

Speaking for the Bush campaign at a muddy baseball field near the hospital, state Rep. Rogers Johnson, R-Stratham, accused the Kerry campaign of “using stem cell research for purely political gain.”

“There are people leading with their hearts on this issue, and I feel for them,” he said. But, “Alzheimer’s is not likely to be something you can cure using embryonic stem cells.”

Because treatments are far in the future, there is no harm in proceeding cautiously with a debate on the ethical issues, he said.

Johnson also noted that Bush was the first president to authorize any federal spending on stem cell research. However, most of the money has gone to research on adult stem cells, not embryonic cells.

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