Bill would thwart valuable research

Stem cell research might lead to cures or treatments for a plethora of health problems.

Earlier this month state Rep. Tim Wilkin, R-Eagan, introduced a House bill that would prevent the University from receiving any state funding should it proceed with plans to start research on embryonic stem cells. This knee-jerk reaction threatens controversial research that would likely yield medical benefits grossly outweighing the research’s costs.

Stem cell research is conducted on two types of cells: Adult stem cells are extracted from adult bone marrow and can be induced to develop into some types of specialized cells; they are not considered controversial. Embryonic stem cells are taken from developing human embryos and are controversial because the embryos must be destroyed in the process. However, embryonic cells are pluripotent – they have the potential to become any cell type in the body, which makes them different from adult stem cells.

University researchers maintain that embryonic stem cell research might lead to cures or treatments for a plethora of health problems, including cardiac tissue damage caused by heart attacks, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, if scientists are allowed to create cell lines that carry certain genetic diseases, they would be able to test new therapies and minimize harm to test subjects.

The researchers would use embryos that would otherwise be discarded by fertility clinics. University researcher Dan Kaufman rightly said, “If they are not destined to be implanted and born, we should try to get the most benefit.” There are no bills in the State Legislature opposing fertility clinics – the University should use the unneeded embryos to their full potential.

The University is not asking for state money to fund the research, and federal funds may only be used for embryonic stem cell research done on existing stem cell lines. University researchers plan to use funds from private sources to develop new stem cell research lines. The research would also be closely monitored by the Academic Health Center’s Center for Bioethics and the ethics panel for the University’s Stem Cell Institute. The University is an ideal setting for embryonic stem cell research because it is subject to public scrutiny.

Thankfully, state Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, introduced a counter-bill to Wilkin’s. The potential medical advancements embryonic stem cells offer are immense, and the Legislature must realize this before it bans taking this important step in biotechnology.