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Scientists Welcome Stem Cell Decision - 2001-08-13

Across the United States, many scientists are welcoming President Bush's decision to authorize limited federally funded research involving stem cells from human embryos. Researchers at the University of Miami held a news conference Friday to discuss the decision and its impact on the battle against diseases like diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

Dr. Luca Inverardi is Director of Immunobiology at the University of Miami's medical school. He says President Bush's announcement on stem cell research opens the door to marvelous possibilities for curing some of the worst diseases afflicting mankind.

"I am very pleased with the announcement of President Bush," said Dr. Inverardi. "I think this is an important step in the right direction. Embryonic stem cell research might hold great promise for the treatment of many diseases. We are particularly interested in finding a cure for 'Type One' or juvenile diabetes. We believe that the way the cure diabetes is by successfully transplanting insulin-producing cells."

Dr. Inverardi says he hopes the University of Miami will secure embryonic stem cells in the near future so that research can begin.

Another UM researcher, neurologist Walter Bradley, says he, too is excited - but also disappointed by the limitations imposed by Mr. Bush's decision. The President authorized research, but only on stem cells taken from 60 embryos that have already been destroyed. That, says Dr. Bradley, could constrict possible scientific gains.

"Many scientists, including myself, are concerned that the stem cell lines currently available are not fully adequate and don't provide the full spectrum that we would hope, in the end, will be able to be produced," said Dr. Bradley. "But nevertheless it's a beginning. Federal funding is extremely important for research programs of this nature."

Dr. Bradley's concerns were echoed by a colleague, Dalton Dietrich, who heads UM's Project to Cure Paralysis. Dr. Dietrich says other countries have placed few limitations on stem cell research.

"Japan recently passed their guidelines, and they are going to allow their scientists to go to fertility clinics and obtain embryonic stem cells for medical research," said Dr. Dietrich. "This is what I hoped our government would opt for, but it did not. The American people will be disappointed if they find out that the major discoveries are occurring in other countries. Just like in the space race, Sputnik. That was a disaster for the emotions of the American people," he said, referring to the Soviet Union's achievement in launching the first artificial satellite in 1957.

Not everyone is eager to see cells from human embryos used for scientific research. Many who oppose it argue that, from the moment of conception, human embryos deserve the same protections as any born person.

No one at the University of Miami news conference argued against stem cell research on moral or religious grounds. But medical ethicist Anita Cava said there is a great need for oversight and firm guidelines as research goes forward.

"I am concerned that this has been more a political decision than an ethical decision," said Ms. Cava. "It is not clear to me that entrepreneurs have a strong ethical framework. I'm hoping the government will actively participate in this and continue to open the door to a partnership: reducing the 'cowboy' factor."

One speaker at the UM news conference held no medical degree yet was uniquely qualified to address the hopes surrounding stem cell research. Nine-year-old Jessica Gabor suffers from diabetes. Asked whether she is excited about the prospects of finding a cure for her disease, her eyes lit up. "Of course!" she exclaimed. "Then I could eat all the Twix [candy] bars I want. And Hershey bars and everything."