Mr. President, the Science Is Waiting

05/25/2011 01:05 pm ET

Mr. President, what's taking so long on the stem cell executive order?

OK. That's not really fair. It's pretty clear that you're consumed by some very important things during your first few weeks in office. Between mortgages, financial services and auto industry bailouts, and completing your Cabinet team, the critical challenges on your plate are urgent ones that need your attention. Welcome to the White House! I for one am happy you are there.

Four weeks after your Inauguration, though, I'm just a little confused about what happened to the stem cell issue on which you were so clear in the months and years leading up to the election. I get that campaign promises are sometimes just that - and honestly, I believe that is just part of the game. Even for you.

But I'm confused because, from a political perspective, your promise to reverse President Bush's policy restricting embryonic stem cell research seems like one that should be pretty easy to keep. In January, 74 percent of Americans polled said that you should fulfill your commitment to overturn Bush policy. The ES cell debate was incredibly heated for most of the first decade of the 21st century. But speaking from my experience as someone in the medical research field, much of the fighting has stemmed from mixed - and quite frankly, incorrect - messaging about abortion and stem cells. When I explain to my most ardent right-to-life friends who oppose ES cell research that it has nothing to do with abortion, the "a-ha" is evident. It was never clear to them that ES cell research relies on donated, unfertilized eggs and leftovers from in-vitro fertilization, which would otherwise be destroyed and discarded as medical waste.

People sometimes mistakenly think that our Foundation is focused on stem cell research alone, because of the very visible position of our founder, Michael J. Fox, on this issue. In actuality, stem cell research represents a relatively small fraction of the $140 million we've invested in Parkinson's research since our founding in 2000. We pursue every promising research path -- including, but not limited to, stem cell science -- in parallel, to increase the likelihood of transformative treatments and, ultimately, a cure for Parkinson's disease.

It's true that we initially attempted to "fill the gap" created by President Bush's executive order in 2001. We invested in all types of stem cell research (including a project that confirmed scientists' ability to convert embryonic stem cells into a dopamine neurons in a Petri dish -- a major advance), but ultimately concluded that our funding alone wasn't enough to move the field forward. President Bush's policy prohibited use of federal funds or federally funded lab space for embryonic stem cell research, and that meant that even with best-intended private and state efforts, progress in ES cell research was essentially stopped.

President Obama, it's time to get that progress started again.

Please fulfill your campaign promise and repeal President Bush's policy immediately. For the countless millions of Americans who live with disease every day, waiting even another day seems like an incredibly frivolous waste of time. After all, to quote Story Landis, director of the National Institute of Neurodegeneration and Stroke at NIH: "The science is waiting."