What is arguably the most influential medical journal in the world has announced that it will publish more studies on embryonic stem cell research in order to build more public support for such science.

New England Journal of Medicine editor Dr. Jeffrey M. Drazen was quoted recently in the Boston Globe as saying that, “Nothing is better for a field than true progress, to be able to say, ‘We can do this, and we may be able to cure that.'” In an editorial in his journal, he invited studies that promote embryonic stem cell research to be submitted to the journal. He wrote, “I believe that such research must continue in the United States if we are to provide the best possible care for our patients,” and vowed that the journal would “do our part” in promoting such research.

Stem cells are versatile cells that can transform into any body tissue. Scientists believe that the morphing process can be controlled to create cures and treatments for a wide variety of diseases and illnesses, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, spinal cord injuries and cancer. Stem cells can be harvested from a number of ethically permissible sources including skin, brain tissue, liposuctioned fat, bone marrow and umbilical cords, but some scientists have limited their work to stem cells derived from embryos. The embryo must be destroyed to harvest the stem cells and thus pro-life groups, religious leaders and some politicians have criticized it as immoral.

The Boston Globe reported that “given the heavy media coverage regularly generated by the journal’s scientific studies,” the publishing of papers promoting embyronic stem cell research may increase public support for it. Dr. George Q. Daley, a stem cell researcher at the Harvard Medical School and Whitehead Institute, said the NEJM’s announcement is a boon for embryonic stem cell research. “Once we demonstrate the ability of the research to create new medicines, the public will endorse this.”

In 2001, President George W. Bush attempted a compromise, permitting research on some 80 existing stem-cell lines garnered from already destroyed embryos. However, he banned funding of research on newly destroyed embryos. Since then, advocates of embryonic stem cell research have attempted, without success, to get the president’s policy reversed.

Pro-lifers and many scientists note that non-embryonic stem cell research is not only ethical but more practical, as doctors can use the patient’s own stem cells, therefore lessening the chances of rejection. Furthermore, non-embryonic stem cell research has yielded clinically proven treatments, whereas most embryonic stem cell “successes” remain in the realm of animal research.

In June, the U.S. Senate commerce’s science subcommittee heard Dr. Jean Peduzzi-Nelson of Alabama University explain that adult cells worked “as well, if not better, than” embryonic cells and are probably safer, while Dr. David Hess of Georgia Medical College described how bone marrow was easily isolated and was not rejected by the person from whom it was taken.