There have been lot of stem cell research and politics articles in the news of late. In the runup to the US presidential election in November, the Democrats are positioning themselves as the party of stem cell research:
John Kerry said Monday that America needs a president who "believes in science" and supports stem-cell medical research.
The Bush administration has limited federal funding of research on stem cells that results in the destruction of a living human embryo. But Kerry said he'd promote stem-cell science that could aid people with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases and diabetes. "We need to push the curve of discovery," he told 400 Floridians at a NASA visitor center near the space shuttle launch pads.
The current convention is being used as a springboard:
"Stem cell research is about the quality of life of humans," said state Sen. Wayne Bryant, D-Lawnside. "We ought never forsake the ability to correct and prevent medical problems."
Bryant said that in New Jersey, in particular, where Gov. James E. McGreevey has already created the nation's first state-supported stem cell institute, such authorization would not only lead to advances in the medical field, but also produce a "whole new industry."
Tonight, in one of the most thumb-in-your-eye moments of the convention, Ronald Reagan's youngest child will criticize President Bush's position on stem cell research.
Former President Reagan - nothing less than an iconic figure for GOP conservatives - died in June after a decade-long struggle with Alzheimer's disease. Many researchers believe that stem cell research could unlock cures for that debilitating illness and a host of other deadly and crippling diseases.
As an aside on the connection between Alzheimer's research and embryonic or adult stem cell research, I think Chris Mooney summarizes the situation well:
I think this story from the Scientist, from a while back, gives a very balanced take on the question. The article begins by noting that "most in the field admit it's highly unlikely that a stem cell transplant could cure or even treat Alzheimer's." Conservatives are right on this point. But then they miss the bigger picture: Even if transplants probably won't work, embryonic stem cell research could yield a wealth of information about Alzheimer's that could be productive in leading to treatments down the road.
As you can see from this, the question of the future of Alzheimer's research is very much on the table when the embryonic stem cell issue gets debated. Those who leap from the notion that ES cells won't cure Alzheimer's through transplants to the idea that they're absolutely worthless for all things related to Alzheimer's appear to be either ignorant of the science or willfully missing the big picture.
In fact, you'll find a whole array of great posts over at the Intersection:
Continuing my flurry of campaign-oriented stem cell research posting, consider the following. It so happens that the National Institutes of Health has a position on adult stem cells, and it's one that political boosters of studying these cells to the exclusion of embryonic stem cell research won't take kindly to.
It's odd, isn't it? In all of their important critiques of the Bush administration, I'm not aware of any place or occasion when the Union of Concerned Scientists have centrally discussed the stem cell issue.
After all, I happen to know that many of the UCS statement signatories, including Nobel Laureates Paul Berg and David Baltimore, care a lot about embryonic stem cell research. To say nothing of Gerald Fischbach. Still, it's odd that UCS hasn't ever really brought up the matter.
"It's hard to stop science," he says. "The first breakthrough, the first patient that really benefits from stem cell therapy, will change everything. It will be irresistible in terms of public demand and recognition."
Of course, Chris Mooney talks about the Democratic convention in the context of the political debate over stem cell research:
My prediction is that the growing emphasis on the relationship between politics and science will only add to the attention garnered by this top political science issue. Back in the summer of 2001, no one knew that Bush II would go on to enrage scientists so profoundly. Now, instead of complaining about widespread meddling with obscure advisory panels, the embryonic stem cell research issue can serve as a sweeping proxy for their discontent.
Nevertheless, embryonic stem cell research potentially touches the lives of more than a hundred million Americans, through their familial ties to those suffering from one or more of the diseases embryonic stem cell research may impact. That's a staggering number of people who either care or could be made to care about the issue.
But enough politics. I'll just note this piece on public support for stem cell research:
On June 11, 2004, the nonprofit and nonpartisan Results For America (a project of CSI) released a national opinion survey showing that, by a decisive margin of 74-21 percent, the vast majority of Americans support former First Lady Nancy Reagan's call for the Bush White House to lift restrictions on stem cell research in order to look for possible treatments for the Alzheimer's disease that afflicted former President Ronald Reagan prior to his recent death, as well as the other grave illnesses - including diabetes, Parkinson's, heart disease and multiple sclerosis.
Solo said: "The death of Ronald Reagan altered the course of the national dialogue about stem cell research. When almost three out of four Americans say that they now are more likely to support stem cell research, what you are witnessing is a fundamental shift in the way that average Americans think about this issue. It would be a shame and a potentially devastating setback for the progress made in support for stem cell research if it becomes some sort of litmus test for political parties during the 2004 elections."
I'll finish up by reminding everyone that 2000 US citizens die each and every day from heart disease, a condition shown to be treatable using even comparatively crude stem cell therapies. Regenerative medicine based on stem cell research (adult and embryonic) has the potential to produce effective treatments for most age-related degenerative conditions.
It is a great pity that we live in a world in which politicians have such an enormous negative influence over our future health, longevity and access to advanced medicine. We should do something about that.