Why Should the American Government Fund Stem Cell Research:
In 1958, a scientist at Stanford University researching how DNA is replicated, discovered an enzyme call "Polymerase." The scientist was Arthur Kornberg, and his discovery would have the most profound implications for genetics and the science of molecular biology.
DNA Polymerase is an enzyme that is produced by RNA, which orchestrates a spontaneous biological process call "transcription." This process is the very essence of life, or at least its perpetuation, because it involves the copying of the helical strands of nucleotides in the nucleus of living cells, the DNA molecules. Once Kornberg had isolated this little chemical engine, the biosynthesis process could be instigated in a test tube, outside of the cell. The connotations of the discovery were huge, man could now play God if you will, as some might view it, fashioning DNA or at least fragments of it to his own liking. The fiction of Frankenstein was now within the grasp of human reality, but more research would be needed to realize it. For his contribution, Kornberg received a Nobel prize.
By the early 1970's, bioengineers had learned how to polymerize polypeptides and nucleotides, the basic chemical components of DNA and RNA. It was some really spectacular science, accomplished in part by funding through government grants. In 1976, recognizing the future commercial applications of bioengineering, Robert A. Swanson, a venture capitalist, and Dr. Herbert W. Boyer, a researcher who had pioneered a lot of advancements in restriction enzyme and recombinant DNA techniques, formed a company called Genentech. In 1982, in partnership with Eli Lilly, the first synthetically engineered product was introduced into the market place. The product was called "Humulin," a synthetic form of human insulin. This was big news for Type I. Diabetics. Since then product after product have followed, Protopin, synthetic human growth hormone (HGH), monoclonal antibodies that target specific kinds of cancer cells, new forms of antibiotics, and the list goes on. The genomic medicine industry was going full speed ahead, churning out medicine after medicine to relieve suffering, and indeed, in some cases provide cures. The research being done was also leading mankind to a new and better understanding of cancers, and genetically dependent disease. Its' likely that you know someone who's life has been saved, prolonged, or made better as a result of this research; much of which was funded with government grants.
Over the next two decades, one advancement after another would propel genetic research forward into uncharted territory. In 2002, the Human Genome project succeeded in sequencing, or in layman's terms reading the human genome. Since then, genetic scientist have begun to identify specific genes or groups of genes that are responsible for certain diseases, and just about every other aspect of how are human physiology comes together. We are getting very close to being able to polymerize new genes and use them to repair defective ones. This capability could provide cures for a whole lot of genetically related diseases and conditions. It could produce new medicines we can't even yet imagine, and render a whole lot of invasive surgeries obsolete. It has already provided the capability to take tissue from your body, grow it in the laboratory and then put it back into your body. Soon, scientist may be able to use your own DNA to grow you a new heart, pancreas, liver, kidney or other organ;.new skin for burn patients, new nerves for people suffering from paralysis. With these new capabilities the future of medicine is bright and exciting. Can you imagine the possibilities? No, your not going to live forever, but genetic research is providing therapies and medicines that will help you live better, for as long as you do.
What is incredible, is that we are only perhaps a few billion dollars away from all of this. Unfortunately, for the past seven years, this research effort has slowed down to a crawl, because President Bush has vetoed every bill that has come across his desk having anything to do with genetic research. In addition, the Republicans have filibustered to prevent other bills with funding for genetic research from coming to a vote (a tactic they wanted abolished when Democrats threatened using it to prevent a vote on the Iraq War resolution). This in the face of an opinion poll taken in 2004 which indicated that 74 percent of the people in this country are in favor of funding stem cell research, while only 21 percent oppose it. Need I go on. If the Jesus referred to in the gospels of my Bible, were here on earth today, I have to belief that he would be out there each day on the steps of the capital in Washington D.C., demanding that congress make funding of stem cell research a top priority, and get on with the business of healing the sick.
We already know that President Bush, and the current crew in congress are not going to allow funding of Stem Cell research, so it's up to all of us next November to bring about some regime change, and send some people to Washington who truly will represent the people who elected them. Why should our government fund stem cell research? Because it may be you or a member of your family who will benefit from it. In fact, we all will likely benefit from it as we have from the research that has already taken place.
Think about it this way. I am a type II diabetic. The odds are that 4 out of 10 people (about 175 million Americans) reading this article will join me soon, and if not already diabetic are showing signs of pre-diabetes, but are undiagnosed and unaware of it. It is likely too, that you know someone who suffers from Parkinson's, or some other disease that stem cell research may one day provide a cure for. But 1 out of 5 Americans don't want you to have this cure. They don't want our government to fund this research, and they don't want research scientist to get their hands on the new and fresh stem cell lines they need to perform this research; which otherwise will end up in a medical waste incinerator. What kind of logic is that? What kind of reason? What kind of compassion and humanity? These same people find no shortage of justification in spending trillions of dollars to kill people in Afghanistan and Iraq, and given the opportunity would love to go kill a bunch more Iranians as well. But invest a few billion dollars in stem cell research to save lives, or improve the quality of life for a half of all Americans, and that is some how usurping the divine sanction, playing God. Go figure. Stem cell research, any way you want to boil it down is going to save lives and make living for a whole lot of people better; maybe even your life, or that of your loved ones. If that is not a good enough reason for a few of your tax dollars to be spent on stem cell research, I'm at a loss to think of a better one.
Christopher T. Scott, "Stem Cell Now, Plume," New York, 2006
Genentech, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetech
James D. Watson, "DNA The Secret of Life," Knopf, New York, 2003