Heartland, Wis. – Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green has announced a plan to allocate $25 million in state money to the WiCell Research Institute to fund peer-reviewed research into methods of deriving stem cells that don’t involve the destruction of embryos.
The reaction from Gov. Jim Doyle was swift, with the governor’s campaign stating that Green’s proposal is based on a faulty research technique.
Appearing at the home of Tom and Dana Schreibel, whose 13-year-old son Brent has juvenile diabetes, Green said the state should invest the money over a four-year period to develop techniques that produce embryonic stem cells along the lines of those announced two weeks ago by a California biotechnology company.
He was referring to news that Advanced Cell Technology of Alameda, Calif. had created a method of safely extracting stem cells from embryos.
“We’re building on the exciting research that we heard of a couple of weeks ago,” Green said.
Subsequent reports have indicated that all 16 embryos used in the Advanced Cell Technology experiments actually were destroyed, and that the company’s findings were extrapolated from less ambitious experiments. Green, however, said the end result – that there is a safe method of deriving stem cells from embryos – remains “unchallenged.”
The Doyle campaign noted several challenges, including the fact that Nature, the scientific journal in which the findings originally were published, has issued clarifications. “This is another stem cell research red herring from Congressman Green, and it is irresponsible and dishonest for him to use debunked and unproven science to try and trick voters into thinking he supports stem cell research,” Anson Kaye, communications director for the Doyle campaign, said in a statement.
Steadfast on stem cells
Amid the controversy, Robert Lanza, vice president of Advanced Cell Technology, has defended the company’s research, saying it has proven that a single cell extracted from an embryo has the capacity to make embryonic stem cells. He said the fact that an embryo can be biopsied without destroying it was not the focus of his research team because that already had been proven by in-vitro fertilization clinics.
It is a common practice for in-vitro fertilization clinics to conduct biopsies on embryos as a way to screen for genetic defects. To conduct the biopsies, the clinics must first extract cells from early-stage embryos that later are implanted in a woman. Thus far, the modified embryos have produced healthy babies.
Appearing with several families in Heartland, Green also called on the Bush Administration to modify its restriction on new federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to include funding for research involving stem cells derived from techniques that do not involve embryonic destruction.
Green has been hammered by Doyle for opposing federal funding for new lines of embryonic stem cells derived by methods that involve the destruction of an embryo. At the moment, 21 embryonic stem cell lines are all that receive federal funding under a policy announced by Bush in August of 2001.
In July, Green voted against a bill that would have modified the president’s policy and made federal funding available for new stem cell lines produced with the consent of people who donate embryos created at in-vitro fertilization clinics.
The $25 million would be allocated to WiCell, a non-profit organization set up to advance stem cell research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the home of the nation’s first stem cell bank. Through WiCell, Green said the state has the opportunity to make sure embryonic stem cell research is `done in the right way.”
WiCell’s scientific director is UW-Madison researcher James Thomson, who was the first scientist to isolate human embryonic stem cells.
Researchers believe that embryonic stem cells, which have the ability to become virtually any type of cell in the human body, can be used to find cures or treatments for diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and diabetes.
Advocates of stem cell research argue that since surplus embryos produced at in-vitro fertilization clinics otherwise would be disgarded and therefore destroyed, it’s morally sound to use them for potentially life-saving research.