"Voinovich's View" on ESCR
Sen. George Voinovich writes on advancing medical research while at the same time protecting life:
March 17, 2009(emphasis added)
As the debate over federal funding for stem cell research returned to the front pages this week, I am growing increasingly concerned that many Ohioans are unaware that the most promising advances in medical research and treatment today are not attributed to the embryonic stem cells. Rather, it is the non-controversial, non-life destroying use of adult and umbilical blood cord cells that have, to-date, been used to treat more than 70 diseases.
I am concerned that President Obama is planting false hope with Americans and redirecting funding that could be allocated to already proven adult stem cell treatments. The president is also ignoring the recent reports from our nation’s scientists about the potential of obtaining embryonic-like stem cells without creating or ending human life.
I would like to take this opportunity to update you on the real progress scientists have made through the use of these non-embryonic stem cells. I hope you’ll take it into account when forming your own opinions on the issue.
It is critical to understand that embryonic stems cells, as their name suggests, are derived from human embryos developed from eggs that have been fertilized in an in vitro fertilization clinic. Removing stem cells from these embryos ends their life, making their use very controversial and something I cannot morally support.
Non-embryonic adult stem cells are unspecialized cells found among specialized cells in mature tissues or organs. These cells can be gathered by scientists without any harm to the individual. Also included in this ethical category of stem cells are those from umbilical cord blood derived from the placenta of a new born baby. Once considered medical waste and discarded after birth, cord blood has been scientifically proven to save thousands of lives. In fact, I have given the gift of saving cord blood to my grandchildren, just in case they need it one day.
Like getting an organ replaced, there is always the chance of bodily rejection during treatment. But, if a patient donates their own stem cells for treatment, the risk of rejection is basically eliminated. The goal is, after all, to successfully incorporate treatment cells into the patient’s body, ultimately becoming the patient’s cells.
There is much to be excited about when it comes to the promise of adult and umbilical blood cord cells. Researchers at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts have converted skin cells from Parkinson’s patients into the general type of neuron that the disease destroys. With further research, this approach could allow the brain cells that are lost in Parkinson’s disease to be replaced with cells that carry no risk of immune rejection.
In addition, after demonstrating they could turn skin cells back into stem cells, scientists in Wisconsin have been able to grow working heart-muscle cells from the induced pluripotent stem cells, known as iPS cells. And, British scientists have been able to transplant stem cells from Multiple Sclerosis patients’ own bone marrow and reverse multiple sclerosis symptoms if done early enough.
In Ohio, a great deal of promising research on adult and umbilical cord stem cells is happening at Cleveland’s National Center for Regenerative Medicine. A partnership between Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals of Cleveland, the Center was established in 2003 to develop new adult stem cell therapies for patients suffering from chronic and debilitating diseases.
Currently, the Center has 20 on-going or planned clinic trials to further explore the use of stem cell therapies to reduce the risk of chemotherapy, treat certain heart conditions and improve umbilical stem cell treatment for Leukemia.
I am gravely concerned about the possible implications of spending taxpayer dollars on an issue like embryonic stem cell research that divides Americans on moral and ethical grounds and believe it is my moral responsibility to direct the federal government’s dollars toward the areas of research that have the greatest near-term potential to help the largest number of Americans. That is why I have a long history in the Senate of voting to advance research into adult and umbilical cord stem cells and against redirecting money away from life-saving treatments and research.
In the current budget environment in which limited resources are available for federal medical research, increasing funding for embryonic stem cell research will take away opportunities for research in areas like adult and umbilical research – or even for specific diseases like cancer, juvenile diabetes or Parkinson’s disease – that have proven their usefulness.
I have the greatest sympathy for patients and their families who continue to struggle with a wide range of painful and, sometimes, life-ending diseases. Yet, I fear that proponents of embryonic stem cell research too often provide those suffering and their loved ones with false or unproven promises of hope in terms of embryonic stem cells while ignoring the real and substantial progress that has been made with adult and blood cord treatments.
I certainly have my issues with Sen. Voinovich. His pro-life creds, however, are not among them. Kudos to the senator for this strong statement in favor of life.