Speakers at U promote stem cell use

Hayley Odom

Recent University retiree Leslie Wilbert’s lips trembled and her voice quivered as she flipped through a pink photo album of her granddaughter, Lauren Olson, who suffers from juvenile diabetes.

Wilbert returned to the University Monday to show support for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry and his stance on stem cell research, which she believes is the key to her granddaughter’s future, she said.

Planned to coincide with a speech by Kerry on Sunday promoting stem cell research, approximately 20 community and University members gathered at Coffman Union to discuss the potential medical implications stem cell research could harvest.

“I’ve witnessed miracles here,” said Wilbert, who worked in the University’s Department of Medicine. “Diabetic kids need the same chance Ö If we don’t change, we’re in serious trouble for education, research and everything great here will go down the tubes.”

The speakers included a juvenile diabetes patient, a parent of a child with juvenile diabetes and a University student and faculty member.

Will Nicholson, a speaker at the event and third-year medical student taking a semester off to volunteer for the Kerry-Edwards campaign, said President George W. Bush is running an “anti-science” administration.

“Seventy-six percent of Americans support stem cell research and 60 percent of Republicans support it,” he said. “George W. Bush completely disregards the profound potential for stem cell research.”

According to the Bush campaign’s Web site, Kerry misled the press and the public about his federal funding for stem cell research in 2001.

It said that Bush delivered the first federal funding for embryonic stem cell research ever and said that Bush did not ban, limit or restrict stem cell research.

In 2001, Bush funded 71 stem cell lines for research. According to the National Institutes of Health, only 19 of those lines are usable.

Libby Schultz, a Hastings Middle School eighth-grader with juvenile diabetes, provided a patient’s perspective.

“People don’t get to hear the perspective of someone my age,” she said. “If we could increase stem cell research, it would just be awesome.”

The University’s Center for Bioethics Director Jeffrey Kahn said researchers are frustrated with the current restrictions on stem cell research because they are “asked to do ground-breaking research with one arm tied behind their back.”

Kahn, speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the University, said that asking the private sector to fund the research is a backward step because it leaves out the public’s role in ethics. He also said it is unfair to ask the private sector to fund research that might not yield a profit.

“By developing (research) with public money, you get to develop public rules,” he said. “This is the ethical perspective.”