Date: July 1st, 2004
Patient advocates for a variety of debilitating and deadly diseases are banding together to step up research into stem cell science, which may hold very real hope for treatments or cures. Frustrated by what they see as the federal government's insufficient funding of the research, these supporters are taking their cause to the states.
Stem cells develop at the beginning of the embryonic stage and go on to create all the tissues that make up a human body. Because they can be manipulated to develop into any type of tissue, researchers think these talented cells may hold the key to reversing the symptoms of - or even curing - a variety of diseases by replacing a patient's diseased cells with healthy ones.
Despite opposition from some social conservatives, support for this life-saving science is gaining bipartisan ground. Recently, more than 200 members of Congress sent a letter to President Bush urging him to remove some of the restrictions on federal funding. Two dozen pro-life Republicans were among those signing the letter. A majority of Senate members also sent a similar letter to the White House urging the administration to revisit the policy.
With the recent death of President Ronald Reagan, support and awareness of embryonic stem cell research has greatly increased among Conservatives, Independents and Fundamentalists. In the first opinion survey conducted since the death of President Reagan, results show three out of four Americans support federal expansion of stem cell research, a fundamental shift of the way people think about this issue.
Nancy Reagan has spoken out publicly in support of stem cell research. She took up the cause after her husband was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Since the passing of her husband, surveys show 80 percent of Americans view her as a credible source on this issue, a 15 percent increase from a survey conducted in March 2004.
This research is significant for those afflicted with diseases including multiple sclerosis, diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and even heart disease and cancer. And while stem cells also can be harvested from adults, those cells are useful for creating only a few tissue types. Only stem cells harvested from embryos hold the amazing potential to become any kind of cell.
Federal funding choked off
In 2001, President Bush thwarted progress on potential cures for millions of Americans by drastically limiting federal funding for stem cell research. Now states are stepping in to fill the funding void.California passed a law in 2002 supporting therapeutic cloning to provide human eggs for stem cells, and New Jersey soon followed suit. Legislatures in seven other states are considering similar bills.
California is again leading the way with a funding initiative that voters will decide in November. Known as the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, the program would provide researchers with about $295 million a year for ten years through tax-free state bonds. It bans funding for any cloning projects intended to create babies, but provides funding for research aimed at creating cures - otherwise known as therapeutic cloning.
The bond proposition is backed by California patient advocates, scientists and medical experts, and organizations such as the California Medical Association, American Diabetes Association, the National Coalition for Cancer Research, and the American Nurses Association of California. The coalition gathered more than a million signatures to support putting the initiative before California voters, nearly twice as many as they needed for certification. The proposition officially qualified for the November ballot on June 3.
Where the federal government has taken a devastating step backward, states like California are stepping up to take the lead. For many of those suffering from these diseases, progress has been slow and sporadic. And once diagnosed, patients have had to settle for comfort measures or treatments that maintain or slow the progression of the disease. Stem cell research is different - it could lead to actual cures.
Age-related diseases - such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer, and heart disease - now rob many older adults of healthy, productive years. These diseases could be a thing of the past if stem cells live up to their potential, allowing humans to live fully to theirs.