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Archive for July, 2011

 

Sherley vs. Sebelius, a lawsuit threatening stem cell research, was thrown out today.

What does this mean?

My paralyzed son Roman Reed and I were in the room when President Obama signed a declaration reversing the Bush doctrine, which had so severely limited stem cell research.
What a shining moment that was, filled with hope, after the repressive policies of the previous White House occupant. The disability community had a friend in the White House now!

But then the lawsuits came, unmistakably ideological in origin, from the Christian Medical Association and others.  

Two plaintiffs were acknowledged as having standing: James T. Sherley and Theresa Deisher. They sued to shut down embryonic stem cell research, on the grounds it could mean less money for them. They were adult stem cell researchers, and argued that every dollar spent on embryonic stem cell research was therefore a dollar they could not have.

This to me was nonsense. Every scientist competes for funding; did they deserve special treatment, that an entire area of science should go unfunded for their economic benefit?

Should ideological opinion and monetary self-interest be allowed to block the funding of research which might help my son stand up from his wheelchair?

Today, we were vindicated.

Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that the federal government may fund embryonic stem cell research, siding with Health and Human Services director Sebelius,  the Obama administration, the National Institutes of Health– and all who support research for cure.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/27/us-usa-stemcells-court-idUSTRE76Q41Q20110727?feedType=RSS&feedName=domesticNews

When Judge Lamberth dismissed the plaintiff’s claims and ruled that NIH guidelines did not violate federal law, it was a huge victory for America’s one hundred million citizens with a chronic (incurable) disease or disability. 

But we dare not  relax and think ourselves secure.  The ideological  forces behind this lawsuit still exist. Some seek to rally religious fervor for  personal political gain.

Fortunately, the American people overwhelmingly support the research, with recent polls running as high as 72% in favor of using “embryonic stem cells left over from in vitro fertilization procedures”.

http://health.usnews.com/health-news/managing-your-healthcare/research/articles/2010/10/07/most-americans-back-embryonic-stem-cell-research-poll_print.html

But the Republican platform of 2008 sought a complete ban all embryonic stem cell research, public and private.
 http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/168039/going-out-bang/stephen-spruiell

As far as I  know, they have not liberalized their views on this issue.

California is a sanctuary for stem cell research. The people of this state voted to support   and protect it, even putting it into the state Constitution.

Today, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) is performing quietly heroic service, doing the long slow step-by-step work that must be done and which cannot be short-changed, if cures are to become reality.

But lawsuits were thrown against us, by groups with similar ideological persuasions.

For more than two years, those suits denied the California program’s funding. It was kept alive only by private loan/donations from philanthropists, and finally a $150 million loan from the state (since repaid), until the court finally dismissed the charges against us as groundless.

Today California’s program is working hard for the good of everyone, safe and secure behind the wall of our state’s Constitution. Every state deserves such a program, and such protection for its researchers.

Every day of delay is a loss, 24 hours which might have brought us closer to cure. And every attack could affect a new scientist who wonders, maybe I should get into a safer area– one not so politically dangerous– that is a blow to all our hopes.

And the larger battle,to allow federal funding?

With Judge Lamberth’s ruling, America has won the right to make our fight. Now, state dollars can once again be matched by federal contributions, bringing in more resources to the states, and more hope to the patients.

No one can say when cures will come. The conditions stem cell research is intended to alleviate are all chronic, meaning incurable.

The impact of chronic disease?  In dollars alone, the cost is staggering.

In  2009, chronic disease costs America an estimated $1.65 trillion a year, equaling the national debt for that same amount of time.
 http://www.fightchronicdisease.org/media-center/releases/us-spending-chronic-disease-now-equal-nation%E2%80%99s-annual-federal-deficit

In suffering, the cost cannot be quantified.

 If we want to lessen those gigantic costs, cure research is the only way to do it.

Judge Lamberth’s decision was both wise, and fortunate.  But we who support the research dare not rest.

We cannot forget those for whom we fight.

Here is Bob Klein, founder of the California stem cell program, in his final message as Chair  of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee:

“As I watched my mother die of Alzheimer’s, stripped of every memory of family, friends, children—every hope and dream of her life—I promised her I would do my best to that others would not suffer her same death while “living” out their last years…(Today) A gateway to medical discoveries and therapies has opened. Let us support and defend this opportunity… a new hope for the future of mankind, to reduce the suffering of every child, every woman, and every man on this planet from chronic disease and injury.”

–California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Annual Report, 2010

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Hello, Canada Stem Cell Friends!

Summary:  9th Annual International Society of Stem Cell Research Conference

 

By Don C. Reed

 

From the press conference for the new website, Stem Cell City, electronic presence of the McEwen Center for Regenerative Medicine, (www.joinstemcellcity.com) to the enormous halls for scientific posters,  to  the struggle to understand the scientists who interpreted those posters, the trip to Canada for the International Society of Stem Cell Research Conference was one massive information overload—and a joy.

 

Ontario Premiere Dalton McGuinty spoke of Canada’s pioneering giants, James Edgar Till and Earnest Armstrong McCulloch, first to prove the existence of stem cells.  

 

California’s own Bob Klein, author of Prop 71, received the first-ever ISSCR Public Service Award.  He took the opportunity to thank Canadian researchers, for developing insulin– which keeps his diabetic son Jordan alive.

 

When Daniella Drummond-Burbosa spoke on: “Control of stem cells by diet and systemic factors in the drosophila ovary”, I asked why that was important. 

 

 “A fly’s insides are relatively simple to understand. We have to go back to the beginning stages of living tissue,” she said, “So we can know exactly how each step works.”

 

My son Roman is paralyzed. So when Robert S. Langer, MIT professor with more than 700 patents, spoke of making a hollow spinal cord column—and stuffing it with stem cells—I had serious doubts. But there it was on the screen before us, and  previously paraplegic monkeys were galloping on a treadmill.  

 

Greatness of the future? Robert Blelloch received the ISSCR Outstanding Young Investigator Award for his work on the signals regulating stem cells.

 

At the ‘MEET  THE EXPERTS LUNCH” you could sit with a favorite scientist.

 

Irv Weissman spoke of the dangers of “stem cell tourism”, where patients went overseas and tried potentially unsafe procedures, perhaps endangering their lives.

 

Shinya Yamanaka! The famous Japanese scientist who came up with induced Pluripotent Stem cells (iPS) defended his research, recently criticized by several scientific articles.   

And he made everyone feel proud of Japan, which is hosting the ISSCR meeting next year, despite the disaster which so riveted the world.

 

“It is safe, it is beautiful– and you will like the food!” he said.

 

Multiple “tracks” made possible an organized presentation of various approaches.

 

Freda Miller: fighting paralysis with skin cells.

 

Elly Tanaka: how a salamander regenerates its severed spinal cord.

 

Amy Wagers of Harvard spoke about regenerating muscle function for the aged—  to my all-too-frequently-aching muscles, it sounded very good indeed.

 

Brock Reeve, walked by and naturally I had to jump up and run over and shake his hand– director of Harvard’s stem cell program, brother of Christopher Reeve, and a good man.

 

The place was like a Hall of Fame for research for cure.

 

Fred Gage of Salk, Sally Temple of the New York Neural Stem Cell Institute, Elaine Fuchs, chair of the ISSCR itself—and the exhibit halls? Huge.

 

Two phone book-sized volumes gave brief descriptions of the thousands of posters—I could have spent a week in there, and never come to the end.

 

I walked up to two Chinese scientists, and asked them where the most stem cell research was in China, and they said: “Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong”—we chatted a bit, I tried out my baby-talk Mandarin on them, and they were polite enough to pretend I was understandable—and it turned out one of them, Gang Li, was now in Mountain View, California, and we had a mutual friend, Deepak Srivastava, who recently published an article on turning heart scars into useful tissue, which may be of enormous significance.

 

Hans Keirstead was presenting work on a stem cell therapy to save the lives of children with spinal muscular atrophy, who may otherwise die before the age of two.

 

George Daley of Boston’s Children’s Hospital, great scientist and communicator… he could be a convention by himself!  

 

Impression: despite all the talk about new methods, embryonic stem cell research is increasingly the number one research choice. I walked up and down the research poster aisles every day for at least a couple hours, and it was astonishing to see how even in countries and states officially against the research, people who were studying it anyway.

 

And the two biggest names in non-embryonic stem cell research?  The world is abuzz with the iPS work of Shinya Yamanaka, just as it was with adult stem cell research of Catherine Verfaille when it seemed she might have a method which was just as good as embryonic—both of them had experiments underway in embryonic stem cell research.

 

Kawasaki, the famous Japanese motorcycle company, is now heavily into biomedicine.

 

Conversations and companies, theories and therapies, champions of the past and future.

 

Thank you, CIRM, for helping patient advocates glimpse the future. It will allow us to more effectively share the message of hope which is California’s gift to the world.

 

 

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