October 24, 2004
Investment critical to curing diseases
By Larry Goldstein
Since storming to the forefront of the nation's attention, the debate on stem-cell research has traveled a winding road, focusing first on ethics and, more recently, on the length of time before our scientists might find cures. What has not received its due attention is the scope of these possible cures and treatments. The potential of therapies coming from stem-cell research is unmatched in terms of both breadth and depth of the many conditions that could be treated and the many lives that could be improved or perhaps even saved.
More than 128 million Americans suffer from a disease that experts believe could be treated with therapies resulting from stem-cell research. These conditions include diabetes, Alzheimer's, cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's, ALS, osteoporosis, spinal cord injuries.
Despite this potential, political squabbling has blocked the federal funds needed to perform embryonic-stem-cell research. With Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, California voters can intercede. Proposition 71, a statewide bond measure that will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot, would provide funds for stem-cell research at California's medical schools, hospitals and research facilities, establishing a critical long-term funding stream. Research institutions would receive not only funds, but also assurance that a shift of political power in either Washington or Sacramento won't shut down their work at a moment's notice.
A broad coalition of supporters has endorsed Proposition 71. Medical experts and groups, patient advocacy groups and more than 20 Nobel laureates in California alone subscribe to its promise. They include the Alzheimer's Association California Council, California Medical Association, American Nurses Association of California, American Diabetes Association, Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
With explicit provisions to protect the state budget and boost its economy, Proposition 71 is an investment California can absolutely afford to make. Issued bonds will be self-financing for the first five years, with no cost to the state's general fund. Funding for stem-cell research will likely lead to thousands of new jobs, millions in new tax revenues, and shares in the patents and royalties for treatments funded by the initiative. That's why the measure is supported by our state's two top fiscal watchdogs, state Treasurer Phil Angelides and state Controller Steve Westly, and business organizations.
Stem-cell therapies have the potential to reduce our skyrocketing healthcare costs. An economic study recently reported that with a 1 percent healthcare cost reduction, California would not only recoup the costs of Proposition 71, but save billions more.
Without funding, this research could also be driven out of California, forcing Californians to eventually look to countries such as Singapore, the United Kingdom, Australia, or China for medical treatment. Unlike the United States, these countries are already investing aggressively in embryonic-stem-cell research with the hopes of supplanting California as the world leader in biotechnology.
Finally, the public funding provided by Proposition 71 will ensure that stem-cell research will happen with full public knowledge and scrutiny, and with the public's participation in its regulation. This openness will be lost if public dollars do not play a major role in funding the research.
An investment of such great importance to our society and our economy requires long-term vision. The financial resources provided by this measure are critical if we hope to find the treatments and therapies that so many of our families and friends need. The question should not be whether California can afford to pass Proposition 71, but whether it can afford not to.
Larry Goldstein, Ph.D., is professor of cellular and molecular
medicine at the University of California, San Diego