17 Jul Doyle urges Senate to loosen stem cell restrictions
Washington, D.C. – With the opening of a U.S. Senate debate on stem cell policy just hours away, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle again urged Senators to overturn President Bush’s ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
During a morning visit to the West Salem home of Samuel and Marcie Petersen, whose five-year-old son Adam has diabetes, Doyle again used the backdrop of a Wisconsin family with a special interest in stem cell research to plead his case for a less restrictive federal policy. In June, Doyle visited four such families across the state to drum up support for federal funding on new stem cell lines.
“These families and countless like them hope that science may one day unlock the cures to diseases long thought incurable,” Doyle said in prepared remarks. “We cannot turn our backs on these families. I’m urging the Senate to allow funding for new research, and pass this important legislation.”
In a letter to Senators, Doyle received some support from University of Wisconsin System President Kevin Reilly, and Carl Gulbrandsen, managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. They noted that stem cells were derived as the result of University of Wisconsin-Madison research, and that WARF has distributed stem cells to more than 300 research groups around the world.
“The legislation would broaden the current federal policy on human embryonic stem cell research to authorize federally funded research on cell lines derived from embryos developed for in-vitro fertilization that otherwise would be discarded,” they wrote.
Votes on the main stem cell bill before the Senate, formally known as the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (House Resolution 810), and two less controversial stem cell measures – the Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act, and the Fetus Farming Prohibition Act – could come Tuesday.
Sixty votes are needed for filibuster-proof passage of each measure, and 67 votes are needed for proponents of the main bill to override a Presidential veto. President Bush has said he would veto any Congressional overturn of the ban he announced in August of 2001, which would be his first veto as President.
Supporters of lifting the ban say it has delayed critical research that would move the scientific community closer to cures for life-threatening and debilitating diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and Multiple Sclerosis.
Opponents counter that destroying embryos to obtain stem cells for research is tantamount to the destruction of a human life, and that human embryonic stem cells are being oversold as an avenue for discovery.
H.R. 810 = S471
H.R. 810 would remove the current restrictions on federal funding on embryonic stem cell research, and permit the National Institutes of Health to fund embryonic stem cell research, regardless of where the stem cells are derived.
Both of Wisconsin’s U.S. Senators, Democrats Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, have co- sponsored S471, the Senate version of H.R. 810.
The debate is of keen interest here, given the UW-Madison’s role in the development of stem cell lines for research, Doyle’s staunch support of stem cell research, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green’s support of the President’s policy.
Earlier this year, noting that May 24, 2006 was the one-year anniversary of the House of Representatives’ passage of H.R. 810, Doyle expressed disappointment that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, was not moving more quickly to follow through on a commitment to schedule a vote on H.R. 810 in the Senate. Frist, a physician, now calls for modifying the President’s policy after initially supporting limits federal funding for stem-cell research.
Last fall, Doyle vetoed a bill that would have banned both reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning. The latter, which involves the transfer of genomic DNA for cell transplantation therapies, is of interest to university researchers but raises the ire of opponents because an embryo is destroyed in the isolation of stem cells.
Green, who serves in the House, voted against H.R. 810 last year, and he has accused Doyle of using human suffering for crass political gain. He also has touted his past votes in support of federal funding for other kinds of medical research.
Green was a co-sponsor of the “Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005,” legislation that he claims has led to 67 clinical applications because of human adult stem cells derived from cord blood.
Stem cell flashpoint
Researchers believe human embryonic stem cells have the potential to help them find cures because they are undifferentiated cells that can grow and divide to produce more undifferentiated cells. In other words, they have the potential to become any type of cell in the body, with the potential to someday be used to replace damaged or cancerous cells.
Supporters of stem cell research say a key distinction between adult and embryonic stem cells is that adult stem cells can become other cells, and therefore are multipotent, but not any other cell, whereas human embryonic stem cells can become any other cell and therefore are pluripotent. That is a claim that is under increasing attack from advocates of adult stem cell research, who point out that procedures are being developed to make adult stem cells pluripotent.
Wisconsin Right to Life, which supports the President’s policy, is more enthusiastic about the research potential of human adult stem cells. The organization notes that human embryonic stem cells have produced no treatments for human conditions because it’s hard to get them to form one specific tissue, they are uncontrollable, and they tend to form tumors.
Researchers at UW-Madison first isolated embryonic stem cells in primates in 1995, and joined researchers from Johns Hopkins in isolating human embryonic stem cells in 1998. The findings were controversial because one team derived its stem cells from the tissue of aborted fetuses, and the UW-Madison team, led by stem cell researcher James Thomson, derived its lines from embryos created in the laboratory for couples hoping to conceive a child through in-vitro fertilization.
President Bush announced his decision to limit funding to a few dozen lines of existing human embryonic stem cells on Aug. 9, 2001. Many of the approved lines later were found to be unsuitable for research because they either were contaminated or contained genetic mutations, a development that has generated more political pressure to modify his policy.
There are three ethical restrictions in the main Senate bill. It would limit human embryonic stem cell research to stem cells derived from human embryos donated from in-vitro fertilization clinics for the purpose of fertility treatment, and that were in excess of the needs of the individuals seeking the treatment
The bill also stipulates that the embryos used would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded, and that individuals seeking treatment donate surplus embryos with written informed consent and receive no financial or other inducements.
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