Many say they believe the cures for Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and spinal cord injuries lie in the realm of embryonic stem cell research.
The possibility of expanding the research in the near future might be decided Nov. 2, when the United States chooses its next president.
The National Institutes of Health said embryonic stem cells have the potential to develop into many different body cell types and are derived from human embryos.
Both presidential candidates have said they support embryonic stem cell research. But they differ on how many embryonic stem cell lines should be available for public funding.
In August 2001, President George W. Bush became the first president to support embryonic stem cell research with public funds. But he limited the number of embryonic stem cell lines that could be researched with public funds.
More than 60 embryonic stem cell lines are available, but the National Institutes of Health said only 19 of those lines are usable.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry has said that if he is elected president, he will lift the current barriers on public funding for embryonic stem cell research.
People against the research believe that early-stage embryos have moral status, or are real people, said the University’s Center for Bioethics Director Jeff Kahn.
“(They say) it doesn’t matter how good the purpose is – it’s still an unethical act to destroy an embryo,” he said. “The argument is for moral status or personhood, and for some people that starts at fertilization.”
He said others support the research because it has the potential to help people with diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
He also said supporters say fertilized eggs left over from in-vitro fertilization will be destroyed no matter what and could be donated for research.
He said research into embryonic stem cells is in a beginning phase, and scientists are trying to figure out how the cells work.
In 1999, the University established the Stem Cell Institute. More than 500 people are involved with the center, and it has received $43 million in overall funding.
“We have faculty interested in pursuing it, and we decided last year that we would consider human embryo research with private dollars,” said Sarah Youngerman, the Academic Health Center’s national public relations associate director.
The government always funds basic science research, she said.
If Bush won the election, she said, the institute would not have a reason to believe the present embryonic stem cell policy would change. It would remain limited to the 19 functioning lines available for research through public funding.
“The fact that we’re limited to a few lines is problematic, and if the current policy stays in place, we will seek private funding to do that research,” she said.
She said the center is pursuing human trials in adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. Both trials are expected to begin next year, she said.
Voters need to understand embryonic stem cell research and take it into consideration when they cast their votes, said Bill Poehler, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life communications associate.
“All of the success in stem cell research has been through adult stem cells,” he said. “No human being or lab rat has benefited from embryonic stem cell research.”
He said Kerry has exploited the issue by saying Bush opposes stem cell research.
“He’s the first president to commit federal money to stem cell research,” he said.
Because of the potential of adult stem cells, Poehler said, institutes, including the University, should not pour millions of dollars into “a highly unethical research method that has risks involved.” He said it is a waste of public and private funds.
College Republicans Vice Chairman Tony Richter said he personally opposes opening up any new lines for embryonic stem cell research. But he said the University has the right to pursue private funding.
He said he does not think embryonic stem cell research will be an issue in the upcoming election.