Monday, August 11, 2008

Urgency for Stem Cell Research Rewrites Rules of Medical Science Research

Over the years, I've been a vocal supporter of stem cell research, including embryonic stem cell research. From my own perspective, there is simply no ethical argument which justifies not doing potentially life-saving research using embryonic stem cells, especially on cells destined for the trash can anyway. Nothing anyone can do, say or write will convince me otherwise. In my view, blastocysts do not constitute life until they're in the womb. Those cells cannot sustain life on their own, therefore they do not constitute an "unborn" child. Of course, there's a very vocal minority of people who feel otherwise, and they have some influential supporters including the Catholic Church. For the past 8 years, thanks to a President who is more concerned about the lives of the unborn than he is about those who are already born, we've seen policies which largely stifled stem cell research paid for with taxpayer dollars, even though a majority of Americans support embryonic stem cell research.

Last July, I wrote a posting called "Missouri: A Barometer of American Values?" where I examined that state's evolving position on stem cell research, among other things that could influence cure-related research for type 1 diabetes. Recently, another Midwestern state, this time Michigan, was making news for a very similar reason.

The Detroit Free Press is reporting that a patient advocacy group called CureMichigan submitted 570,000 signatures to end the state's ban on embryonic stem cell research on November's ballot. The newspaper reports that figure is about 200,000 more than needed.

Regardless of the political reasoning behind the prohibition in Michigan, the simple fact remains that according to virtually every survey done on this subject, a majority of Americans believe that embryonic stem cell research should be permitted with few if any restrictions. Clearly, federal and state restrictions on this cutting-edge research represent the minority imposing its will on the majority, and in one state after another, activist voters -- often lead by diabetes advocates -- are changing the way we approach science and, in many cases, are choosing to support embryonic stem cell research with taxpayer dollars. To those who argue that embryonic stem cell research hasn't cured anything, let me respond by asking how its possible to cure anything when the research is presently so restrictive? The way Federal policy now stands, even a microscope paid for with Federal dollars cannot come in contact with banned stem cells. That's no way to run an effective research organization.

Back in 2004, (following the last election), I wrote about California's Proposition 71, in which voters from the largest state voted to fund $295 million per year for stem cell research, most notably on embryonic stem cell lines, funded by $3 billion in general obligation bonds. The California initiative faced legal challenges (which did not hold up in a court of law, but were nevertheless time-wasting and costly to deal with). As I predicted, the California initiative paved the way for other states to fund stem cell research. Since then, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin have also moved to fund stem cell research, too. Collectively, those states have formed an organization called The Interstate Alliance on Stem Cell Research (IASCR), which aims to facilitate coordination among states that wish to advance stem cell research. One reason why such a coalition is vital is because research usually works most effectively as a group effort, and it works best when discoveries in one lab can be shared freely with researchers elsewhere.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that there is an air of urgency to start delivering. Until now, intensive drives like the war on cancer and the Human Genome Project were efforts that only the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies could afford. In California, though, this intellectual infrastructure is being funded just like a new highway bridge or harbor improvements, with 30-year general obligation bonds.

California inspired 9 other states to circumvent federal restrictions on human-embryo research via local funding initiatives. Earlier this year, New York awarded its first state stem-cell grants from $600 million pledged over the next decade. State bond funding is spreading to other research endeavors. In November, Texas voters approved a $3 billion cancer-research bond measure.

Clearly, disease advocates are pushing our government to move ahead on research, and if they can't get the Feds to pay for it, they are pushing the statehouses across the country to chip in. This may be beneficial, as Washington is notoriously inefficient and wasteful, so it will be interesting to see if this is indeed a revolution in the way medical research is undertaken!

1 comment:

Sarah Willie said...

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