Editorial: A tough cell
Amidst a host of other issues that have decorated the political landscape including war, the economy and same-sex marriage, the controversial prospect of stem cell research in the United States earned some major attention in New Jersey on Tuesday.
Jersey Governor James McGreevey announced Tuesday a plan to provide $6.5 million in the state’s budget to build a stem cell research institute. McGreevey’s plan, which would require about $50 million in state and private funds over the next five years, calls for a cooperative effort between Rutgers University and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
The point man in McGreevey’s stem cell initiative is Wise Young, the chairman of cell biology and neuroscience at Rutgers. Young will spend about $25 million to bring in the nations’ top stem cell scientists, no doubt turning The Garden State into a hub for the new-age research.
Despite the recent surge of support, stem cell research in the United States had been stalled in the past by ethical concerns posed by anti-abortion activists because the process requires human embryos to be destroyed. As a result, in 2001 President Bush restricted all research material to those colonies that had already been collected.
Since then, scientists and health professionals across the country have been pushing Bush and Congress to loosen the restrictions on the research, which was forcing researchers to watch from the sidelines as their colleagues in other nations were breaking new ground daily.
It seems that someone might finally be listening. Besides McGreevey, California lawmakers have started pushing a ballot initiative that would generate nearly $3 billion during the next decade. All indications show that many states will follow suit, hoping to cash in on the lucrative market that will soon emerge.
And yet, the question remains as to how far behind the United States has already fallen in the global race. Two weeks ago, South Korean scientists published an article in Science claiming they had grown the world’s first cloned human embryos and had carried some of those far enough to generate organ tissue – a major goal of stem cell research.
While nearly all world policy makers agree that cloning humans is not a good idea, most have written legislation that provides avenues for their stem cell scientists to continue moving forward. Many, like South Korea, have even provided federal money. Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers continue to argue.
Researchers claim that the work could lead to treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and countless other medical problems. The ability to generate new organs and tissue that exactly match a person’s genetic signature would give new life to the thousands of Americans in need of transplants.
Unfortunately, many still worry about the negative implications of this continually changing field of medical technology. Images of test-tube clones lining the walls of laboratories and nameless humans walking through the streets continue to haunt some Americans.
The true future of stem cell research is quite to the contrary.
At full potential, cloned stem cells will provide a second hope for thousands of Americans who battle degenerative disease, spinal cord injuries and “nearly every other disease I can think of,” said Ira Black, a scientist who contributed to McGreevey’s proposal.
With the November election around the counter, there is no doubt that stem cells will be a hot topic for debate, and, because of the sensitive nature of the issue, many candidates will likely try to avoid it. However, if American lawmakers continue to stick their heads in the sand and dodge the issue in the hopes of getting reelected, the U.S. scientific community will be left behind.
Sadly, the biggest losers will not be the researchers hovering over microscopes with nothing to study. They won’t be the legislators squabbling on the Senate floor, either. Those hurt the most will be stuck in hospitals and wheelchairs, desperately waiting for a cure that may never come.