Embryos offer greatest hope for cures

(Published Thursday, June 23, 2005 01:16:59 PM CDT)


Using embryonic stem cells in research offends some people as immoral.

Don't destroy lives in hopes of saving lives, critics argue.

But such research holds out too much hope for sufferers of debilitating diseases and spinal cord injuries to ignore. Our federal government should expand funding for embryonic stem cell research. State government should refrain from passing restrictions.

Pro-life organizations argue that researchers have made great advances using adult stem cells and that embryonic research has yet to pay off. Yet only embryonic stem cells have the unique ability to transform into nearly any tissue. Research would be limited to using microscopic embryos that otherwise would be discarded. In-vitro fertilization clinics destroy thousands of such frozen blastocyst embryos each year. These embryos have no hope of becoming babies. Furthermore, donors would have to give permission to use such embryos.

That's why the U.S. House of Representatives was justified in passing legislation to expand embryonic stem cell research beyond the limited 22 existing lines. The Senate should pass the bill, as well. And despite his promises, President Bush should refrain from using his veto pen for the first time ever.

Critics also argue that such research would open the door to cloning. Yes, many people see cloning as ghoulish. Wisconsin's Legislature is debating a bill that would ban cloning in such research. An Assembly vote was likely today.

But UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley testified at a legislative committee hearing Monday that such a limit would cripple science and amounts to a backdoor attempt to block embryonic research. The state should prohibit reproductive cloning used to create babies. But it should not ban so-called therapeutic cloning in which scientists try to re-create cells to treat genetic diseases. The National Academy of Sciences has developed ethical guidelines to regulate cloning in research, and the Wisconsin State Journal reported that UW-Madison is working to implement these.

Wisconsin's economy could benefit greatly through embryonic stem cell research. That's because UW-Madison's James Thomson is a pioneer in such research. He led a team of scientists that isolated the first human embryonic stem cells in 1998, guaranteeing the university patent rights to most related research. Just last month, Thomson announced a breakthrough in directing stem cells to become heart cells that could be used to test drugs for heart patients. If the federal government restricts such research, it opens the door for other countries to reap tremendous economic gains. For example, South Koreans have led an international team of researchers in one of the latest breakthroughs.

Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., is co-chair and ranking member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. He opened a June 8 hearing on the subject by stating, "It would be unconscionable for the federal government to turn its back on the discoveries that expanding stem cell research promises. Now more than ever, it's important to grasp this opportunity in an ethical manner by making sure that potentially lifesaving research keeps moving forward."

Tens of thousands of Americans suffer from Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, Lou Gehrig's disease, multiple sclerosis, heart troubles and spinal cord injuries. Let's give them hope that researchers can find cures.





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