The debate over the proper role of stem-cell research has raged in this country since the inception of stem-cells from human embryos at the University of Wisconsin in 1998 under James Thomson. While the debate over stem-cells has been overshadowed at times by more pressing concerns (war, anyone?), there is still a fundamental divide on the future of stem-cell research.
The country has essentially settled on the utility of stem-cells, allowing research on adult stem-cells and presidential sanction on the use of 60 lines of embryonic stem-cells.
A line of embryonic stem-cells is a culture of stem-cells extracted from a week-old embryo that can continuously multiply. These lines of embryonic cells are approved by the current president, who is also opposed to the creation of new lines. Recently, claims from the scientific community cite that 60 lines is a very optimistic figure.
A report by CBS News in May 2003 declares that as few as 11 stem-cell lines exist. In a report by the National Institutes of Health Director, Elias Zerhouni cites that while up to 70 lines of potential embryonic stem-cells exist, only 11 have matured to a point where they are actually usable by researchers. The original claim of 70 lines made in fall 2001 actually turned out to yield only one usable stem-cell line in spring 2002.
A more recent look at the NIH’s Web site, which is the government’s official center for stem-cell research, registry reveals that as few as 22 lines exist today.
There’s no official statement on the number of lines, other than an estimate from September 2003 buried in the Web site’s FAQ (bringing the total to 12), but by counting the number of registered lines available to researchers, only 22 unique lines are available.
In the upcoming election, Californians will be deciding on the fate of a state-funded institute to promote the research of embryonic stem-cells. Proposition 71 will allocate $3 billion for use on stem-cell research (ranging from adult to embryonic). As it is written, the legislation will not allow payments exceeding $350 million in a single fiscal year. The $3 billion will be appropriated over a 10-year period.
This legislation comes in response to a crisis that ‘the federal government is not providing adequate funding necessary for the urgent research and facilities needed to develop stem-cell therapies to treat and cure diseases and serious injuries.’
The scientific community has generally agreed on the positive impact that stem-cell research, particularly the impact embryonic stem-cell research may have on the treatment of a host of ailments including ‘cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, lung diseases and spinal injuries,’ according to www.voterguide.ss.ca.gov.
Proposition 71 will create an institution dedicated to the adequate research of stem-cell technology. As of now, there are not 60 lines of embryonic stem-cells available. Proposition 71 will allow California researchers to take a prominent position in the forefront on all forms of stem-cell research.
Arguments against Proposition 71 and against embryonic stemcell research claim several things. First, the use of embryos in research is immoral, which is a question of ethics that are not universally shared. Embryos for research come from donors who explicitly grant the use of excess embryos for research without financial incentive.
Second, many claim that embryonic stem-cell research has not yielded any significant medical breakthroughs. However, with only one stem-cell line available in 2002, it is fairly obvious that this emerging field of study has not had appropriate time and resources to result in breakthroughs. If anything, this should bolster the support for embryonic research.
And lastly, some argue that the money will be used to fund human cloning operations. However, the law specifically states that there will be no human cloning operations.
On a final note, President Bush has been pressuring the international community to ban all embryonic stem-cell research. But as British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry put it, ‘No country has the right to seek to impose on the rest of the world a ban on therapeutic cloning [creation of embryonic stem-cells for research], when its own legislature won’t impose the ban nationally.’
Show your support of stem-cell research by voting yes for Proposition 71. For more facts on the propositions, the full text of the propositions as well as arguments for and against the propositions, head to www.votergiude.ss.ca.gov.
Ernest Kim is a third-year engineering and policial science major.
Filed Under: Opinion