The San Jose Mercury News 2/07/04

Teenager's Struggle Spurs Push for Bond on Stem Cell Research

By Lisa M. Krieger, Mercury News

A 13-year-old Portola Valley boy has helped inspire a $3 billion bond proposition for the November ballot that would make California the only state in the nation to fund embryonic stem cell research.

Jordan Klein, who has juvenile diabetes, needs a cure to prevent disability or early death. Existing treatments won't help. Doctors say a treatment derived from stem cells is his best bet.

But because the federal government doesn't fund new stem cell research projects, the work has been stalled. Supporters of the research have decided to go to California voters.

Jordan's father, Robert Klein of Palo Alto-based affordable housing developer Klein Financial, has contributed $500,000 to boost the initiative, organized by the Los Angeles-based Californians for Stem Cell Research and Cures.

``The way to cure this disease, and many others, is through stem cell research,'' Klein said. Because of his illness, Jordan is being home-schooled this year and must give himself injections at least five times a day.

The proposal would fund laboratory projects, through grants and loans, at California universities that extract stem cells from tiny pre-embryos less than 2 weeks old.

Because stem cells mature into many different types of healthy tissue, they are seen as a potential cure not only for juvenile diabetes but also spinal paralysis, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other devastating disabilities and diseases.

On Friday, volunteers began collecting signatures in the Bay Area; they need 600,000 by April 16 to qualify for the ballot.

``It is going pretty well,'' said John Ames of Larkspur, who collected signatures in the parking lot of a Trader Joe's market in San Rafael. By late afternoon, he had 80 or so signatures. Ten months ago, his son -- a long-distance runner, surfer, attorney, husband and father -- was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease.

The measure may face opposition because of California's budget woes. But its supporters say that over time, expanded research will boost the state's budget.

``State funding of stem cell research provides an avenue in California to boost the economic and technological edge that we have already, scientifically,'' said Bill Remak of Petaluma, who is infected with the hepatitis C virus and is leading the California Hepatitis C Task Force to promote more research in the field. ``It helps academia to create more jobs, which is an economic benefit to the state.''

Critics oppose all research involving embryos, no matter how young. To extract these cells for research, scientists must destroy embryos.

The measure's scientific supporters include Nobel Laureate Paul Berg, professor emeritus of cancer research at Stanford University; Dr. Irving Weissman, director of Stanford's Institute for Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine; and Dr. Charles Wilson, chairman emeritus of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of California-San Francisco.

Paid for by YES on 71: Coalition for Stem Cell Research and Cures, #1260661
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