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October 03, 2007 - Image 18

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The Michigan Daily, 2007-10-03

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I 6B The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Wedneday, ctobe 3,007 - h-Mcign aly 7


resident Bush used
the first veto of his
presidency to block a
bill that would ease
the strict regulations
on stem cell research.
It was 2001, and the
prospect of trying to
cure disease by using parts of human
embryos for experimentation, even if
the embryos were going to be discard-
ed anyway, ignited righteous passions
in politicians onboth sides of the aisle.
Unfortunately for stem cell research-
ers, when the bill was shot down upon
reaching the Oval Office, congress
couldn't muster the votes to override
the veto.
Since then, scientists have managed
to find ways around the restrictive laws
and absence of federal support. Michi-
gan has some of the strictest laws in
the country, but on the fifth floor of the
Undergraduate Life Sciences Building
at the University is a state-of-the-art
stem cell laboratory staffed with word
class scientists. Getting it wasn't easy,
though. The University had to raise
money from private donors instead
of relying on governmental funding,
and it had to get the actual stem cells
donated from other states because it's
illegal to do the necessary procedures
As with many battles between
science and politics, science has
adapted and even outpaced political
limitations, but the future of stem cell
research is by no means certain. The
fate of the University's lab and others
like it will rest largely in the hands of
the man or woman elected to replace
Bush in 2008.
The Statement takes a look at the
current batch of political contenders to
see where they stand on the issue that
could make or break the laboratories
that might produce the cures to hun-
dreds of diseases.
is widespread Democratic support for
stem cell research. But if this is true,
there are a lot of silent crusaders.
Even on the far left, there are can-
didates who are staying fairly quiet on
the issue. Of course, it's not enough of
a hot-button topic to require a detailed
position from every candidate, as
health care or the Iraq war does, but
what candidates volunteer about an
issue before their asked says a lot about
their priorities.
For example, scouring the online

campaign literature of the former
Democratic senator from Alaska, Mike
Gravel, yields hardly any information
about his position on stem cells. And
he hasn't brought it up in any of the
presidential debates.
"It's not a good sign when you're
running, and nobody can find (your
stem cell policies) on the web," said
Sean Morrison, the director of the
University's center for stem cell biol-
The same might be said of Sen. Joe
Biden (D-Del.), another presidential
candidate, who has voted in support of
but isn'tvocal aboutstem cell research.
His rival Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-
Coon.) on the other hand, has been
forthcoming with support.
As for the frontrunners, Senators
Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and
former senator John Edwards, all
strongly support stem cell research.
Morrison, who works directly with
embryonic stem cells in his day-to-
day research, gave both Clinton and
Obama a "two thumbs up." He said
they were among the candidates who
not only have a voting record that sup-
ports stem cell research but also have a
history of action.
The Stem Cell Research Enhance-
ment Act, which Clinton, Obama and
39 other senators co-sponsored, aimed
to allow funding for derivation of stem
cell lines from human embryonic tis-
sue created in excess of need at fertil-
ity clinics, where thousands of day-old
zygotes will remain frozen until they
are thawed and discarded.
For his part, while he was in the
senate, Edwards took some heat from
then-Senate majority leader Bill Frist
(R-Tenn.) after he called for more
resources for stem cell research fol-
lowing the death of actor Christopher
Reeve, but it didn't deter him. Today,
Edwards says his wife Elizabeth's can-
cer is a driving force behind his sup-
port of the issue.
Mark Prince, the chief of the oto-
laryngology section for the Veteran's
Affairs Ann Arbor Health Care System
and who works with non-embryonic
cancer stem cells, said that from his
understanding of Clinton and Obama's
platforms, he thought they had a pret-
ty good understanding of the issue - a
critical qualification for making deci-
sions about it.
Morrison couldn't say the same
of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).
Kucinich, running for the second
time, also co-sponsored the Stem
Cell Research Enhancement Act, but

Morrison found flaws in Kucinich's
position against therapeutic clon-
ing. The term therapeutic cloning
describes the process of taking the
nucleus out of a somatic cell, which is
any bodily cell that's not a sperm or
an egg, and putting that nucleus into
an empty human egg cell, which is a
cell with the nucleus removed. The
cell can then be coaxed to divide into
something from which stem cells can
be extracted, but Morrison referred
to it as a "somatic cell nuclear trans-
fer product," not an "embryo," as
Kucinich had suggested.
"It's not clear that anybody in the
Kucinich campaign understands the
science well enough to be clear about
those distinctions," he said.
Although he's probably got a better
shot than Kucinich, New Mexico Gov.
Bill Richardson isn't widely thought of
as the likely Democratic nominee. He
is, however, one of the most progres-
sive candidates in terms of stem cell
research. During Richardson's time as
the governor of New Mexico, he devel-
oped a state-funded research facility
where students at the University of
New Mexico could research embryon-
ic stem cells that wouldn't otherwise
be studied because of federal funding
"You have to give him credit," Mor-
rison said. "He's not only talking about
doing it - he's actually moving for-
There is just as much variation on
opinions inthe Republican camp. Most
of the top-tier candidates don't reject
the idea on principle, but they seem to
be working hard not to alienate voters
of the religious right who do.
For example, former Massachusetts
Gov. Mitt Romney seems to tentatively
support stem cell research, though he
says he voted against legislation that
would fund it because it would have
increased taxes. Romney, who has
been accused by conservatives of lean-
ing too far left on issues like abortion,
whichhe nowsayshe opposes, istrying
to tread a fine line - not exactly oppos-
ing research on embryos from fertility
clinics that would be destined for the
waste bin anyway, but not wholeheart-
edly endorsing the cause.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy
Giuliani is also having a hard time rec-
onciling his views with those of the
Republican base. Giuliani's campaign
and public statements about stem cell
research contain only vague clues as

to what he would do about stem cell
policy if elected to office.
"It sounds like he's being kind of
cagey about if he supports it," Prince
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), though,
doesn't beat around the bush. He's
come out and said he voted against the
Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act,
not because he is opposed to the actual
research, but because he's opposed to
the government's fundingit. This posi-
tion isn'tunusual for him, Paul is vehe-
mently against the continued funding
of most government projects.
Prince said he could understand
the appeal of that philosophy, because
it has proven hard to get a consensus
from the American public. But absent
public funding, scientists often have a
hard time finding money elsewhere.
"The problem is that it's hard to
get substantial funding from private
donors, so the pace would be slowed,"
Prince said.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a
frontrunner though his support has
been flagging, does support embryonic
stem cell research, but mainly for busi-
ness reasons, he says. McCain says the
research is going to happen in other
countries regardless whether it hap-
pens here, so we may as well get in the
Former Arkansas Governor and
presidential contender Mike Huck-
abee's doesn't appear to vehemently
oppose stem cell research, but seems
fairly content with the status quo.
Huckabee has said that President
Bush should be praised for support-
ing stem cell research more than any
other American president in the his-
tory of the United States, but while the
research has received more attention
under Bush than it has under other
presidents, no other president has
really been given the same opportu-
nity and lack of resources continues to
hamper the research.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.),
one of the lesser-known candidates,
voted against the Stem Cell Research
Enhancement Act and co-sponsored
the Human Cloning Prohibition Act,
which would criminalize efforts
toward reproductive cloning.
Hunter also says on his campaign
website that he voted in support of
the Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell
Therapies Enhancement Act, which
would support the study of stem cells
taken from human matter besides
embryos, sometimes called adult stem
cells, but Morrison still rated him "two

thumbs down."
The act, which Morrison called a
"sham," failed once it reached the Sen-
ate in 2006. It would have furthered
the funding of adult stem cell research,
but sufficient funds already exist and
it is relatively unbound by few govern-
mental restraints.
"It would have been like passing a
bill that allows owning dogs," Morri-
son said.
As far as Sam Brownback goes, "he
is one of the main sources of misinfor-
mation on Capitol Hill related to stem
cell research," Morrison said.' "His
positions are very difficult to reconcile
with the facts."
Some politicians think they're
taking the safe route by only stating
approval for adult stem cells and dis-
missing embryonic stem cell research,
but Morrison said it wasn't a reason-
able alternative.
"It's like asking whether carpenters
should use hammers or screwdrivers,"
Morrison said. "I don't know any stem
cell biologists who say they prefer one
over the other."
And finally there's Rep. Tom Tan-
credo (R-Colo.), an old-fashioned
man who takes an old-fashioned pro-
life stance on stem cell research. He
believes in the sanctity of all human
life, even if that life isn't exactly liv-
ing, the point is it could be someday
if it were to be implanted in a wom-
an's uterus. Morrison said he found
this to be a bizarre idea, taking into
account the more than 400,000 fro-
zen embryos that exist in fertility
"Does that mean that these embryos
have a right to implant in somebody's
uterus?" he said. "Who do we hold
at gunpoint and force to have those
embryos implanted?"
Not even the scientists, though,
think there should be zero restric-
tions on fields as sensitive as stem
cell research. Now more than ever,
researchers must tackle the questions
of what exactly constitutes human
life, and to what extent it's acceptable
to create and destroy it. And as most
Republicans would tell you, giving
anyone free reign to conduct research
on humans, even embryos, raises the
moral hackles of the populace maybe
rightly so.
"I think it's the type of research
that needs to be tightly regulated with
close oversight to make sure (research-
ers) are not doing anything unethical
or immoral," Prince said. "But I guess
that's true of all research, in a way."


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