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October 09, 2008 - Image 57

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2008-10-09

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Health & Fitness

ON THE COVER

A Matter Of Life

Jews rally to expand embryonic stem cell research.

George Cantor
Special to the Jewish News

Ann Arbor

0

ne refrigeration unit after anoth-
er lines the corridor outside the
neurology research lab at the
University of Michigan Medical School.
"I have more refrigerators than shoes,"
says Dr. Eva Feldman, who heads the
research group and is also director of the
university's A. Alfred Taubman Medical
Research Institute.
The lab covers 3,750 square feet in the
neurology building, across the street from
University of Michigan Hospital. The
refrigeration units are filled with samples
of DNA, its close genetic relative RNA,
animal tissue and human tissue. Some of
the most advanced research in the field .
is going on here — with one significant
exception.
Embryonic stem cell lines are in sharply
limited supply. Only a handful of exist-
ing lines and those brought in from other
states with private funds can be used.
Although many researchers believe
they hold the key to understanding and
treating a wide assortment of human ail-
ments — from some forms of cancer to
advanced diabetes to ALS, or Lou Gehrig's
Disease — it is illegal to create embryonic
stem cell lines in Michigan.
If Dr. Feldman and her staff did, they
would be liable under Michigan law to $10
million in fines and 10 years in prison. So
she had to set up a co-operative arrange-
ment with the University of California at
San Diego to conduct research that cannot
be done in Ann Arbor.
Michigan is one of six states that have
enacted such laws. Voters will decide next
month whether they want to uphold these
restrictions or amend the state's constitution
to permit expanded research. It will appear
as Proposal 2 on the November ballot.

A Tough Fight
Taubman, whose institute funds much of
this research, described himself as "exas-
perated" by these impediments.
"It is really a pathetic situation," he says,
"and to make it worse, we are in danger of
losing some of the best minds in the field.
They want to go where they can carry on
their research without having their hands
tied. We are cutting off one of this state's

U-M's Dr. Feldman: "We think now that stem cells can not only arrest nerve
damage, but reverse it."

most important assets.
a Pandora's box of frightening research
"Our opponents argue that using adult
and weird science!'
stem cells is just as effective, and they do
Doyle insists it would lead to experi-
have their place. But that place is limited
ments in human cloning and that state
and they can't be used over as wide a
taxpayers would be on the hook for fund-
range of research as embryonic stem cells!' ing the research.
Many Jewish organizations, including
Taubman calls these assertions "a total
Hadassah and B'nai B'rith, are strongly
lie.""They are telling us what research we
in favor of Proposal 2. Several other indi-
intend to do," he says, "and there is abso-
viduals serve on the board of Michigan
lutely nothing in that proposal that will
Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures,
cost Michigan taxpayers a dime."
a nonprofit advocacy group, and other
organizations backing the proposal.
Positive Signs
Opposing Proposal 2 is Michigan
Even with the restrictions under which
Citizens Against Unrestricted Science
they work, Dr. Feldman's 35-person team
and Experimentation, (Micause), which
has come up with some encouraging
includes the Michigan Catholic Conference results. In the battle against ALS, a disease
and Right to Life of Michigan. Its spokes-
that previously has resisted attempts to
man, David Doyle, of the Lansing-based
slow its progression or cure, they found
Marketing Research Group, calls Proposal
that spinal cord stem cells transplanted
2 "filled with false hopes and misinforma- into animals have the capacity to become
tion in an attempt to hide from voters (its) new nerve cells and to attach themselves
true intentions ... This proposal unleashes to sick cells and make them healthier.

"The goal is to get approval for human
trials;' says Dr. Feldman. "But the bulk of
that work had to be done in California. It
can't be done here. If I could do everything
in Michigan, it would advance the pace of
the work and make progress much more
rapid."
Israel has been among the world leaders
in such research, with cutting edge work
going on at the Technion-Israel Institute
of Technology and Rambam Medical •
Center in Haifa. Jewish religious leaders
do not believe there is a halachic (Jewish
law) prohibition on such research or that
using a 5 -to 7-day-old embryo destroys
human life. They regard its potential for
healing and saving lives as a strong Jewish
imperative.
"Jewish tradition and religious law teach
that saving lives is a paramount moral
obligation," said Stephen B. Zorn, imme-
diate past president of the Bloomfield
Township-based Great Lakes Region B'nai
B'rith International, in support of earlier
bills in the Michigan Legislature that
would have permitted embryonic stem cell
research.
"It is also an urgent issue for the Jewish
community because it is one of the oldest
demographic groups in the U.S. and par-
ticularly hard hit by many conditions that
could be addressed by this new research."
B'nai B'rith is one of the sponsors of a
documentary film on stem cell research
by University of Michigan student Michael
Rubyan. The West Bloomfield High gradu-
ate, a pre-med student majoring in film,
was drawn to the subject through the ill-
ness of a relative. He hopes his film, which
took 21/2 years to complete, "will help peo-
ple connect with the issue by hearing from
other people, and not just the experts."
Several congregations in the area are
helping to promote the film, which will
be given its Detroit area premiere this
Wednesday-Thursday, Oct. 15-16, at the
Main and Maple theaters in Royal Oak and
Bloomfield Township, respectively. (See
adjacent story.)
In addition, supporters of embryonic
stem cell research are urging those who
agree with them to send a letter backing
Proposal 2 to any Michigan newspaper by
visiting the Jewish Community Relations
Council of Metropolitan Detroit homep-
age, detroitjcrc.org, and clicking the link
in the "What You Can Do" box.

A Matter Of Life on page B10

October 9 • 2008

B9

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