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Stem cell research has been a hot topic this week, and it’s getting hotter. The latest: Chicago fertility clinic the Reproductive Genetics Institute has announced the creation of 50 new embryonic stem cell lines, according to the AP. Of these, 12 were derived from embryos carrying seven different genetic diseases, including two forms of muscular dystrophy. Experts believe that such lines could help researchers better understand genetic diseases and develop new treatments or cures.

“This is a significant advance for the field,” said Leonard Zon, president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research and a stem cell researcher at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. “We may learn a lot about the biology of basic diseases by having those lines available.”

The Chicago researchers plan to present details of their work details at the society’s annual meeting in Boston this week. They will make the cells available to privately funded researchers (current policy limits federal funding to stem cell lines created before Augist 2001). Zon says at least two other groups are also scheduled to report on new stem cell lines derived from disease-afflicted human embryos.

The announcement comes on the heels of a push from U.S. conservatives who hope President Bush will reconsider the August 2001 policy. Mrs. Bush, however, stated this morning that the president’s position has not changed. Conservatives remain hopeful, though: During NBC coverage of Reagan’s state funeral this evening, former Republican sentor and presidential candidate Bob Dole stated his hopes that Reagan’s struggle with Alzheimer’s might sway Bush to reconsider.

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