A Plea for Stem Cell Research
Reagan's 'long goodbye' is Reason Enough for Bush to Reconsider
Ronald Reagan's final accomplishment in life was to raise awareness and understanding of Alzheimer's disease. In death, we hope his legacy will bring Alzheimer's research the funding, attention and political support it deserves.
Alzheimer's, as Reagan and his wife, Nancy, helped many Americans to appreciate, is often called "the long goodbye." It begins with symptoms of minor memory loss and progresses to forgetfulness, disorientation, confusion, and a slow descent into a permanent fog that erases all memories and personality traits. In its final stage, Alzheimer's robs the brain of its ability to operate the body (though some sufferers die sooner of related complications, as Reagan did).
About 4 million Americans have Alzheimer's and there is no known cure.
Sadly, one of science's best hope for a breakthrough in Alzheimer's research is being constrained by Bush administration politics. Reagan's death ought to prompt the administration to reconsider its misguided and potentially harmful restrictions on stem- cell research.
Stem cells are not the only promising avenue for Alzheimer's researchers, but they offer one of the greatest hopes. Bush's 2001 restrictions on government-funded stem cell research have caused serious setbacks in efforts to find a cure for Alzheimer's and other neurological illnesses such as Parkinson's disease and Lou Gehrig's disease.
Stem cell research is controversial because the cells are taken from human embryos, usually after less than a week of gestation. The embryos would otherwise be discarded or frozen. Some would prefer that. But we agree with Nancy Reagan, who said just a month ago at a fund-raiser for stem cell research, that science "has presented us with a hope called stem cell research, which may provide our scientists with many answers that have for so long been beyond our grasp."
Nancy Reagan was joined Tuesday by 58 U.S. senators, including several prominent conservatives, who sent a letter to Bush urging him to relax the current restrictions. He ought to listen.
In 2001 President Bush limited federally funded stem cell research to about 60 existing stem cell lines, but scientists have reported that only about a dozen are suitable for study, and say that number is highly inadequate to conduct the necessary research. The ban has stopped some significant research efforts, pushed some into the private sector, and sent some of America's brightest scientific minds overseas.
This week in Washington there was already talk of a Reagan memorial, as well as renewed calls to place his image on currency.
A far more fitting tribute to America's 40th president would be if his death could provide the spark of funding, attention and unimpeded scientific progress that eventually leads to a cure for Alzheimer's disease.