Unwarranted roadblocks curb stem cell use progress

January 18, 2010
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Michigan voters in 2008 approved a constitutional amendment that cleared legal barriers in Michigan to the use of embryonic stem cells in medical research. While medical research and treatment using adult stem cells has been widely available since the 1960s, these adult cells are already differentiated and unable to form any more than one or two types of cells. The embryonic cells used by fertility clinics and discarded, however, can form 200 types of cells that exist in the human body because they originate from undifferentiated cells. Scientists using these discarded cells are finding therapies to treat and cure devastating diseases such as spinal cord injuries, diabetes and Parkinson’s.

The University of Michigan has become a center for such research even as companion programs in four other Michigan research or university centers are under way. The prospect of impacting such debilitating diseases in this state, however, is juxtaposed by the attempt of two regional lawmakers to circumvent the choice made by Michigan voters. They are likely funded by constituents who are uneducated as to the factual elements of such research, and the legislators choose to fuel fears rather than provide facts.

Legislation introduced by State Sen. Tom George, R-Kalamazoo, and companion legislation by State Rep. Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Township, would create a wall of mandates, some of which already exist and duplicate highly regulated federal mandates.

It is very succinctly an attempt to thwart the decision of a majority of Michigan voters who were unconvinced by the opposition arguing that there is harm in using discarded cells to cure the living.

Any amount of money constituents might pay Jansen or George for subversive acts is a pittance compared to what grief and suffering can be saved through such research. If using discarded cells is so egregious one wonders why physicians are allowed to discard cells left from in vitro fertilization. One could make similar arguments against organ transplants, including heart transplants.

Guarantees in the U.S. Constitution make individual religious choices sacrosanct over the objections of all others. Some such communities deny any type of medical care, and such decisions are left to the individual. Those wary of such cell use in research for cures should then be wary, too, of availing themselves of cures or remedies that result from such research.

The work under way at U of M will profoundly impact the research and scientific endeavor at the Van Andel Institute, certainly Michigan’s premiere life sciences institute, committed to finding cures for various forms of cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Such service to humankind cannot be dissuaded; these are not matters of opinion, they are matters of fact. The disservice to humankind is to perpetuate myths as fact.

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