Thursday, May 26, 2005

Stem Cells, America, and Me

Just a few years ago, Michigan State University scientist Jose Cibelli was considered the leading expert on cloning human embryos to treat and study disease. Now, there's no debate that the cloning king is Hwang Woo-suk of Seoul National University. (Paul Elias, AP)

In a recent NYT column, Tom Friedman argued that big business has been MIA on many current policy issues that are likely to have a profound impact on the future of the American economy. Friedman thinks business ought to be out front on issues like energy policy and the deficit, because it's in business's self-interest to do so. The problem is that American business tilts toward cultural conservatism, and has been able to preserve the bottom line by exploiting international markets.

I'll add an item to Friedman's list of issues on which American business ought to be standing up to the current administration: stem cell research. This area holds untold potential not only for improving health, but also for improving this country's economic competitiveness. I'll acknowledge my obvious bias on the issue: stem cell research may hold promise for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. But the full potential of stem cell treatment--both medical and economic--will never be known unless the feds open the wallet for research beyond the existing lines of embryonic stem cells. More generally, the administration and the far right have created a climate that discourages private investments in stem cell research.

Deep down, I'm pretty sure that I won't be a beneficiary of any stem-cell therapies developed for MS. Although I've benefitted from recent therapeutic advances, I'm 34 and have had the disease for upwards of 12 years now; MS damage in my brain and spinal cord has resulted in problems elsewhere in my body. But I'd like to see a day when MS is curable, and not just manageable.

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