Yale President Richard Levin joined more than 100 university presidents in signing a letter urging the Bush administration to maintain federal financing of embryonic stem-cell research.

The letter, released Monday, asks the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to continue federal funding for this research, which could lead to cures for cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. President George W. Bush and other Republicans and anti-abortion lobbyists have attacked stem-cell research because it uses fetal tissue, and the embryo is destroyed when stem cells are removed.

Stem cells, which can be derived from aborted fetuses, fertility clinics’ discarded embryos or adults, are undifferentiated cells that can develop into any type of cell.

Levin said research from stem-cells may be lifesaving, and is he happy that university presidents signed the letter.

“Research done from stem cells is important in developing gene therapies that promise treatments to some diseases, including some forms of leukemia,” Levin said.

Yale currently receives federal funding for research with stem cells.

“The research at Yale will clearly benefit from the opportunity to study stem cells,” said Myron Genel, associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine. “We have an active program on the origins of diabetes working with stem cells.”

Levin said university presidents did not hold a formal meeting to discuss this issue and, instead, a letter was circulated among presidents. Presidents from Stanford, Harvard and Princeton universities also signed the letter.

In addition to the college leaders, three higher education associations — the American Council on Education, the Association of American Universities and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges — signed the letter. In signing, educators have joined a group of 80 Nobel laureates and patient advocacy groups in lobbying for continued federal funding.

Last year, President Bill Clinton approved a set of regulations allowing the government to finance researchers who work with stem cells derived from human embryos.

Anti-abortion lobbyists and other opponents of this research argue that the use of adult stem cells provides sufficient research opportunities. But the university presidents cited the Nobel laureates in their letter to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson in saying embryonic stem cells may have the potential to treat disorders that adult stem cells cannot.

“It boils down to a debate over some very deeply felt feelings over the moral status of what some would call the pre-embryo,” Genel said.