Stem Cell Research
Embryonic stem cell research continues to help scientists further understand the way this science can be used to treat a variety of diseases. Stem cells are a type of cell that can be turned into almost any type of cell or tissue in the body. With further research, these cells may be used as "replacement" cells and tissues to treat many diseases including Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, AIDS, Lou Gehrig's disease and others. Stem cell research holds hope of one day being able to treat brain injury, spinal cord injury, and stroke for which there is currently no treatment available. And they may solve the problem of the body's reaction to foreign tissue, resulting in dramatic improvements in the treatment of a number of life-threatening conditions, such as burns and kidney failure, for which transplantation is currently used.
I am particularly interested in the science of stem cells because of my interest in curing Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson's disease is a progressive degenerative brain disease which kills a specialized and vital type of brain cell, a cell which produces the substance dopamine, which is essential for normal movement and balance. The loss of these dopamine-producing cells causes symptoms, including slowness and paucity of movement, tremor, stiffness, and difficulty walking and balancing, which makes the sufferer unable to carry out the normal activities of daily living. In 30% of the cases those symptoms include dementia. As the disease progresses, it inflicts horrific physical, emotional, and financial burdens on the patient and family, requiring the caregiver to assist in the activities of daily living, and may eventually lead to placement in a nursing home until death. With further research into stem cells, scientists will be able to "reprogram" the stem cells into the dopamine-producing cells which are lost in Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's disease affects at least one million Americans. Fifty-thousand are diagnosed each year and for every one diagnosed, two who have Parkinson's disease are not diagnosed. It is alarming to think that two million Americans with Parkinson's disease are undiagnosed.
Parkinson's disease costs the Federal Government approximately $10 billion in healthcare costs, and on average, the cost per patient is $5,000 per year. As a society, we spend $15 billion a year on Parkinson's disease and that is only in direct costs for treatments that only bring temporary relief. Building on the technology developed from research on Parkinson's disease makes treatments and even cures possible for many conditions. These include Alzheimer's, diabetes, AIDS, Lou Gehrig's, brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, and problems with the body's reaction to foreign tissue. It may even provide for safer and more effective ways to test drugs without experimenting on humans and animals. We cannot allow the opportunities afforded us by stem cell research to go untapped!
The National Institutes of Health has proposed guidelines to human stem cell research to address the legal and ethical issues surrounding this particular type of research. It is being approached in a responsible way to utilize the technology while being sensitive to the ethical questions raised. The National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) even felt they could have gone further and is very supportive of allowing this type of research to continue with Federal funding. The NBAC points out that federally funding this research will allow Federal oversight to ensure this type of research continues ethically. Federal funds are crucial to allow scientists to proceed with stem cell research and to exploit fully this novel, innovative, and ground-breaking technology.