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HEALTH REPORT - Obama Team Reviews Bush's Order on Stem Cells

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Bethesda, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., is home to the National Institutes of Health. N.I.H. calls itself "the Nation's Medical Research Agency." But it supports research worldwide with its budget of almost twenty-nine billion dollars.

Elias Zerhouni
Elias Zerhouni

Federal agencies will get new leaders when Barack Obama is president. But the head of N.I.H. resigned early. Elias Zerhouni left at the end of October after six and a half years as director.

For now, the acting director is Raynard Kington. Doctor Kington has been deputy director for the past five years. Directors are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

The National Institutes of Health had strong financial support during Doctor Zerhouni's first two years. But Congress did not increase the budget very much after that.

Albert Reece is dean of the University of Maryland medical school. He says that since two thousand four, N.I.H.'s budget has been reduced by more than thirteen percent after considering inflation.

Doctor Reece, writing in the Baltimore Sun, urged President-elect Obama to increase the funding. It would not only improve the nation's health, he says, but also help restart the economy. Medical centers funded by N.I.H., he said, support more than three million full-time jobs.

Right now, the Obama team is looking at executive orders signed by President Bush. Those that conflict with Mister Obama's positions could be canceled or amended. One area being looked at is stem cell research. Stem cells can grow into any kind of tissue in the body.

President Bush has restricted federal support for research on embryonic stem cells because of his beliefs about protecting life. Others say the embryos would be destroyed anyway because they are unused embryos from fertility clinics.

Mister Obama says the research may lead to improved treatments for Alzheimer's disease and other conditions. He says other treatments being studied are not substitutes for research on embryonic stem cells. He has called for expanded federal support.

Doctor Zerhouni told Congress last year that he thought the limits were interfering with research.

Political appointees have to resign when the administration changes in January. But Elias Zerhouni says he left before the election so the next president would have to start thinking early about N.I.H. He says he wants to work on writing projects and explore other professional opportunities.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report. I'm Steve Ember.

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