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LIFE DIGEST: Democrats plan to make destructive stem cell research an issue; bladders grown from adult stem cells

WASHINGTON (BP)–Democrats believe making embryonic stem cell research a campaign issue will help them in their effort to gain a majority in the House of Representatives in November’s elections.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has unveiled new advertisements that target seven Republicans who oppose federal funds for stem cell research that results in the destruction of embryos. The Democrats plan to promote the controversial issue with fervor in areas where there are large medical centers or biotechnology companies, the Chicago Tribune reported March 27. They also plan to use the ads in congressional districts known for politically moderate voters but represented by Republicans known for high-profile opposition to funding the destructive experimentation.

“On one side of the divide is life-saving medical research; on the other side is special-interest politics,” DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel said in a written release.

Emanuel, a congressman from Illinois, told the Tribune the issue would enable Democrats to communicate a larger message -– Republicans are in favor of the status quo and are obligated to special interests, especially religious conservatives, while Democrats are for progress.

“The notion that you would stop us from finding that cure is fundamental to whether you will offer new priorities or the old priorities that got us here,” Emanuel said, according to the Tribune.

Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, denied the issue would make a difference in the races for the House of Representatives. “House races tend to be much more about pocketbook issues,” he told the Tribune.

John Green, a University of Akron political science professor and a specialist in the religious influence on elections, told the newspaper Republicans may have problems, since they are divided on the issue.

“If you look at the core religious conservatives, Catholics and evangelicals, it seems unlikely that they would vote for the Democratic candidate, but they might stay home,” he said. “And that’s always a problem in a close election.”

The Democrats need to gain 15 seats to achieve a majority in the House.

The federal government does not fund stem cell research that destroys human embryos. Extracting stem cells from embryos results in their destruction.

President Bush’s policy allows federal funding for research only on embryonic stem cell lines already in existence prior to his August 2001 announcement barring funds for all other stem cell experimentation on embryos. The federal government underwrites experimentation on non-embryonic stem cells (also known as adult stem cells).

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into other cells and tissues, providing hope for the treatment of a host of debilitating diseases. While removing embryonic stem cells destroys the tiny human being, extracting stem cells from non-embryonic sources –- such as cord blood, fat, bone marrow and placentas –- does not harm the donor.

Although most scientists believe embryonic stem cells have more potential for providing treatments for debilitating diseases, so far only non-embryonic stem cells have produced any therapies. Embryonic stem cell research has not only failed to treat successfully any ailments, it has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals. Research on stem cells from non-embryonic sources has produced treatments for at least 67 ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. These include spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and sickle cell anemia.

Privately funded research on embryonic stem cells is legal and ongoing in the United States.

U.S. NOT LAGGING -– The United States is neither falling behind in its research nor the most conservative in its policy on stem cells, despite the impression often communicated.

Researchers in the United States have far outdistanced those in other countries in the number of articles in scientific journals about stem cell research, The Scientist magazine reported March 21. American scientists had 13,663 articles published between 2000 and 2004. That constituted 42 percent of all articles on the subject.

Germany, which has a more restrictive policy on embryonic stem cell research than the United States, finished in second place with 10.2 percent of the articles published. Germany prohibits all embryonic stem cell research and human cloning.

“The promoters of human cloning and [embryonic stem cell research] constantly bemoan the alleged ‘fact’ that the USA is falling behind in stem cell research because of President Bush’s funding policies. Now, we know this is pure bunk,” said Wesley Smith, a bioethicist and a lawyer for an anti-euthanasia organization, in an online column.

“This is the bottom line: United States researchers are responsible for almost half of all the stem cell articles published in the world between 2000 and 2004! And number two is the country with perhaps the most restrictive laws in the world about cloning and embryonic stem cell research,” Smith said.

The U.S. policy “sits somewhere in the center-ground of European debate,” bioethicist Nigel Cameron wrote April 5 in a commentary for Christianity Today Online.

Germany, Austria, Italy, Poland, Malta and Slovakia backed a proposal to bar European Union funding of embryonic stem cell research in a recent meeting but failed to gain the votes needed, The Scientist reported. The countries offered the measure at a recent meeting of the 25 E.U. national science ministers in Brussels, Belgium, according to the report. The six governments, however, have enough voting power to constitute a “blocking minority,” The Scientist reported.

ADULT STEM CELL SUCCESS -– The evidence continues to mount for the effectiveness of non-embryonic stem cells in treating ailments. In two recent examples:

— The first human recipients of organs developed in the laboratory were reported April 3, when it was revealed bladders had been grown from patients’ own adult stem cells. The bladders have shown long-term success in children and teenagers, according to a report from Anthony Atala, director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

— Scientists at the University of Minnesota have almost totally reversed the impact of strokes in laboratory rats by utilizing stem cells from umbilical cord blood, according to an April 6 report by the National Geographic News.

Researchers at the University of Arizona have found stem cells from cord blood and fat to be nearly as effective as the claims for embryonic stem cells without the moral problem of destroying a human embryo.

“We think cord blood is the next best thing to embryonic stem cells,” said David Harris, a microbiology professor and scientific director of Cord Blood Registry, according to the Arizona Daily Star. “These cells are versatile and robust. Neonatal stem cells are fairly equivalent to fetal stem cells, without all the controversy and hindrance.”

Stuart Williams, a University of Arizona professor and pioneer in research in stem cells from fat, told the Tucson newspaper, “We’ve cured almost every single disease there is in mice. Now it’s translating it from mice to humans. Fifteen years from now, I foresee patients not needing heart transplants. We’ll replace tissue that has become damaged with healthy tissue.”

MORE STATE FUNDS -– Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a Republican, signed into law April 6 a bill authorizing $15 million a year in state funds for both embryonic and non-embryonic stem cell research.

Maryland becomes the fifth state to fund destructive embryonic stem cell research since Bush announced his policy on federal funds for such experimentation. The other states backing embryonic research are California, Connecticut, Illinois and New Jersey, according to USA Today.

Meanwhile, California will have $14 million from private sources to fund a new institute that will make grants for embryonic stem cell experiments, the Associated Press reported April 4. The agency, which was approved by a statewide vote in 2004, has been unable to fund research because two legal challenges have not been resolved. Six philanthropic groups agreed to loan the money to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, according to AP. Voters authorized the sale of $300 million in bonds each year for a decade to fund the research.