STEM-CELL RESEARCH: IS PROP. 71 THE RIGHT CHOICE? YES: CALIFORNIA CAN STEP FORWARD TO LEAD THE WAY
BYLINE: JOAN SAMUELSON
It is high time to advance the new scientific frontier of ``regenerative
medicine.'' Using stem cells as building blocks, many dreadful, incurable
diseases -- among them diabetes, cancer and many disorders of the brain,
eye, heart and other organs -- could be cured.
Proposition 71 calls for California to step forward as a leader of this fight.
The Stem Cell Research and Cures Act, Proposition 71, authorizes $3 billion in state general obligation bonds to invest in stem-cell research by California's best scientists, providing $300 million a year for 10 years. We cannot afford to let this historic opportunity slip by.
The scientific experts say it is time.
The National Academy of Sciences said ``Stem-cell research offers unprecedented opportunities for developing new treatments for debilitating diseases for which there are no cures.'' Scientific American recently concluded that ``replacement cells and regenerating organs are realistic goals.''
Researchers place the disorder that I struggle with every day, Parkinson's, at the top of their list. They plan to use stem cells to repair and restore the brain's dopamine system, which produces the vital chemicals that power movement.
The federal government's refusal to fund stem-cell research has left a leadership vacuum -- with immense human suffering. The facts are clear: Stem cells can be created from the 300,000-plus leftover, frozen embryos, mostly in fertility clinics, that will otherwise be discarded.
Many staunchly pro-life lawmakers, such as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, have become strong supporters of stem-cell research. The editors of Scientific American say ``the stakes of dithering on these issues are high,'' and point out that that even the President's Council on Bioethics recommends continuing research under guidelines like those in Proposition 71: limiting research sources of stem cells, prohibiting human reproductive cloning, and protecting patient rights and privacy.
But the federal shutdown on support is starving the research in every promising area, and in Parkinson's I count the impact in lost years. Five years ago scientists said I could hope for a cure by now, but that deadline has slipped and there is no new one.
California can -- and should -- take the lead in translating stem-cell promise to cures. With the world's fifth largest economy and several world-class medical research institutions, California can compete on its own to reach this new medical frontier. This investment could bring high returns.
A new study, co-authored by Stanford economist Laurence Baker and economic researchers at The Analysis Group, predicts that Proposition 71 will return $6 billion to $12 billion in reduced health care costs, increased tax revenue from thousands of new jobs and expanding activity in the biotech industry, and increased state royalties from research-funded patents.
There are financial consequences to any further delay: Economists warn that aging baby boomers will multiply the costs of long-term illness -- disability, long term care, lost tax revenue and lost productivity, increased medical costs -- by three times, swamping the available government support. Since the cost of Parkinson's alone in America exceeds $25 billion per year, the savings just in California could equal the cost of this initiative.
Most important, though, is that Proposition 71 will save lives. California's initiative process is famous for leading the country in bold advances. This time, we are challenged to use our government to accelerate cures for millions of suffering people.
That is exactly what I need from my state. With 18 years of Parkinson's progressively killing my dopamine system, I still must rely on a 40-year-old therapy, L-dopa. It treats my symptoms part of the time but the number of hours it doesn't work are increasing, leaving me overwhelmed by stiffness, tremor and an inability to move on my own.
One day -- next year? next month? -- it will stop working altogether, leaving me a prisoner of a frozen body, taking my ability to earn a living, freedom and dignity, and all that I treasure, away.
Meanwhile, I have loved ones with diabetes, macular degeneration, cystic fibrosis and cancer -- all disorders for which stem cells holds hope. California could play a historic, lifesaving role in this rescue. It's time to start -- with Proposition 71.
Joan Samuelson, a Healdsburg resident, is founder and president of the Parkinson's Action Network, a national Parkinson's advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.