Monday, March 27, 2006

Stem cell politics obscuring real issues with embryonic stem cells

Stem cell politics in New Jersey, by way of the Chicago Tribune:

As state Rep. Linda Stender tries to oust Republican Rep. Michael Ferguson from his congressional seat representing north-central New Jersey, she hopes the promise of embryonic stem cell research, and Ferguson's opposition to it, gives her a distinct advantage. [IPBiz note: there are issues in embryonic stem cell research other than the moral one. In a world of limited funding, is embryonic stem cell therapy the best bet on the time scale of ten years? What is the true state-of-the art of embryonic stem cell work in the post-Hwang world? How will patents play out in blocking access to certain methods?]

"If you know anybody who suffers from diabetes or Alzheimer's or has had a spinal cord injury, I think that you want to see a cure," Stender, a self-described "progressive," said in an interview. "There are people in my family that have been affected by terrible diseases. And I choose to put my faith in science to find a cure, and the promise of a cure appears to be in stem cell research." [IPBiz note: ask Woo Suk Hwang]

Ferguson, a strong opponent of abortion, is clear in his opposition to stem cell research for moral reasons. But he insists he always has been a champion of medical and biotechnology research --issues important to the sizeable health care industry in his district -- during his five years on Capitol Hill.

"I just think efforts to politicize this issue are misguided and will ultimately be unsuccessful, and that's because of my very strong record in field of health care," Ferguson said. He said his mother survived bone marrow cancer for six years thanks to scientific advances.

Democrats around the country are counting on the stem cell issue to give them a boost in November's congressional elections. On Monday, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., who heads the Democratic effort to retake the House, will visit New Jersey to join Stender in unveiling Internet ads targeting Ferguson and six other Republican candidates, including Illinois state Sen. Peter Roskam and Rick O'Donnell in Colorado, who oppose stem cell research.

"This is just another example where the president and people in Congress could care less for everyday folks out there," said Ed Perlmutter. Perlmutter, who has a daughter with epilepsy, is in a Democratic primary race in a district outside Denver and hopes to challenge O'Donnell in the fall.

The Democrats plan to push the issue especially hard in districts that are home to large medical or biotechnology industries [pork-barrel politics], as well as politically moderate areas where a Republican officeholder has played a large role in opposing stem cell research.

Emanuel said the issue allows Democrats to appeal to women and to talk about their bigger message - that Republicans represent the status quo and are beholden to special interests, especially the religious right, while Democrats represent change and 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.
But Republican strategists insist that such a specific issue will not decide any race. Rather, they say, the outcome will rest on larger concerns about Iraq and the economy. Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which seeks to win House seats for Republicans, dismissed the stem cell issue as the Democrats' latest obsession, one of a long series of hoped-for magic bullets.
"House races tend to be much more about pocketbook issues," Forti said. "I can guarantee you that there will not be a competitive House race in the country where stem cells are discussed in the paid media," meaning campaign advertisements

Opinion polls suggest that voters support such research by a 2-to-1 ratio. Independent voters with the power to decide elections increasingly favor it as well, according to Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center.

The Chicago Tribune article never mentioned Woo Suk Hwang or the uncertainty in "where" embryonic stem cell research was in 2006. It would be helpful if the voters got some insight on realistic expectations for the work in the next 10 or so years. Voters might also be interested in issues with patents in the area, as in the demands made by WARF upon CIRM.

Separately, in New Jersey, from the Asbury Park Press on March 21, 2006:

The plan calls for the creation of a stem-cell research institute in New Brunswick and funding for biomedical and stem-cell related facilities in Camden and at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark.

But the $50 million question of just how much money will be borrowed against future cigarette taxes remains. The Senate bill calls for $250 million, while the Assembly bill calls for $200 million.

"A bill will be voted on by the Assembly," said sponsor Assemblyman Neil Cohen, D-Union. "There are still further discussions to have with the Senate president and with the Governor's Office."

Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance, R-Hunterdon, said the Senate shouldn't approve the plan without the approval of taxpayers. "I'm not discussing the merits of embryonic versus adult stem cells. I want the people to vote on this borrowing," Lance said.

**One notes that in New Jersey, the debate in stem cell research is "where" to spend the money, and "how much" each facility will get. No one is discussing issues with tax-exempt bonds and patent thickets. One thinks back to the bond issue in the late 1980's which passed, with much of the money wasted on getting Chinese post docs. Separately, recall the San Filippo case at Rutgers University.

[IPBiz post 1391]


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