Letter: Excitement, sadness surround research
To the Editor:
I have been waiting with a mixture of excitement and sadness for President Obama to lift the restrictions on federally funded embryonic stem cell research.
My excitement comes from the wonderful opportunities this will present for treatments and cures for a multitude of diseases and injuries. My sadness comes from the anger and outrage that opponents will unleash toward the supporters, their fellow Americans, for I know this is a very controversial topic for some people.
As someone that has an incurable degenerative neurological disease, I have become very interested in embryonic stem cell research. Like others that are struck with a life-altering disease, you tend to gather whatever information that offers hope for the treatment of your disease. I started by asking my son, who is the national government affairs director for the Student Society for Stem Cell Research, and researching government Web sites. And I have gained some knowledge regarding stem cell research.
My friends, who know little about embryonic stem cell research, often ask me questions and I try to share information I have gained over the years.
Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research was restricted by President Bush to only 21 cells lines, which were in existence in 2001. By 2009, only a few of these cell line are still useful. Hundreds of new lines have since been developed, some that carry defects so that specific diseases can be studied. The newer lines offer many more opportunities for research.
With the restrictions lifted, federal dollars can be spent on researching the new lines. This lift of restrictions does not overturn the restriction that prevents federal researchers from developing their own line.
When asked why there should be federal funding spent on this research, I try to provide some reasons: the diseases that may be cured or helped are now costing taxpayers billions of dollars in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits. There are no existing ethical guidelines for this type of research and the federal government could provide the guidelines through the National Institute of Health.
Private companies want to make money and do not have the resources to do the basic research; they are geared toward taking the research and producing products from the research.
When asked why embryonic stem cell research is needed, I try to explain that all types of stem cell research are needed. Most scientists agree that no one knows which type of stem cells will provide the best results, so it crucial to study all types. Embryonic stem cells are thought of as the gold standard by many scientists. They have proved to be useful-Geron Corp. will begin FDA-approved clinical trials this summer using embryonic stem cells to reverse spinal cord injury.
Embryos that were created during the in-vitro fertilization process are the source for embryonic stem cells. These 50-150 cells, 1/10th the width of a human hair, are taken from days-old embryos, and in the process, the embryo is destroyed. For some, this is the reason they cannot support embryonic stem cell research.
To me, it seems as if we have already crossed this moral boundary when in-vitro fertilization occurs. We all have read that more eggs are fertilized than are implanted into the womb. The leftover embryos cannot grow into humans unless they are implanted. A few may be donated to other women for implanting, but the vast majorities are discarded as medical waste. Embryonic stem cells are created from these excess embryos that are otherwise thrown out.
It seems a much more dignified end to use these cells to help develop cures for diseases that affect over 100 million Americans, than to throw them in the biological waste container. As with organ donations, we try to find a higher purpose for what is left. And in return, hope and renewed health are given to the living.
My intent has been to share some information about embryonic stem cell research. It is often difficult to know the facts about such a controversial issue. I hope people will take the time to learn more about this issue by visiting the federal government Web site on stem cells: www.stemcells.nih.gov.
And remember, we are all Americans and can hold different beliefs; this is what makes our country strong.
For more information on stem cell research:
National Institute of Health: www.stemcells.nih.gov
International Society for Stem Cell Research: www.isscr.org
University of Wisconsin Regenerative Medicine Center: www.stemcells.wisc.edu
University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute: www.stemcells.umn.edu