STEM CELL RESEARCH: Don't let radicals stand in the way of saving lives

Friday, Jul. 15 2005

During the 2005 legislative session in Missouri, there was an effort to criminalize scientific research that uses a technique called somatic-cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT.

SCNT is a scientific breakthrough that allows scientists to produce embryonic stem cells in a laboratory by removing the nucleus of a donated unfertilized human egg cell and replacing it with the nucleus of a patient's cell, such as a skin cell. The stem cells produced develop in Petri dishes and cannot become a human being.

Like many other Republicans - including Sens. John McCain and Orrin Hatch and former Missouri Sen. John Danforth - I believe that early stage stem cell research holds great promise for cures to diseases like Parkinson's, sickle-cell disorders, diabetes and Alzheimer's.

We must take a common-sense approach to SCNT research to understand its potential. Radical efforts to criminalize it in Missouri would be devastating to the St. Louis region, which has the potential to become the next biotech center of America. The Brookings Institution affirmed this point when they identified four regions in the United States as having the scientific and university research capacity to become biotech powerhouses. They are St. Louis, Chicago, Ann Arbor/Detroit and Houston.

A ban on such research in our state would threaten thousands of existing and potential jobs and billions of dollars in investments and tax revenues generated by research here. Approximately 390 plant- and life-sciences companies in the St. Louis region employ a total of 22,000 employees and generate more than $10.5 billion in direct and indirect annual economic impact. Should SCNT research become a criminal act, this economic opportunity will bypass Missouri for the other cities mentioned above, or to such states as California, where voters approved a stunning $3 billion tax program to fund biotech research.

Beyond the potential economic loss, we would lose the opportunity to develop cures and treatments that might help my family and millions of other families in the world. In Missouri alone, according to the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, some 443,000 children and adults either have or have experienced all-too-common medical conditions that could benefit from therapies developed through SCNT research. These include juvenile diabetes and LADA (a similar disease that develops in adults), Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, heart attack, stroke and

I was not raised in a traditional family setting. I was raised by my grandmothers, Janet Thompson and Lea Parker, whose names I proudly carry and who I affectionately refer to as my mothers. I was raised to believe that being pro-life means that we not only cherish the lives of the unborn, but also cherish a person's entire life. I have taken this philosophy with me to the Missouri Legislature.

Since 1997, I have cared for my grandmothers and watched them deteriorate due to the debilitating effects of diabetes. My paternal grandmother has had her left leg amputated and now faces the possibility of losing her right leg or right foot. In 2000, she suffered kidney failure, which now requires dialysis treatment three times a week. My maternal grandmother lost her sight in 1994 and never will see my 3-year-old daughter or her six great-grandchildren. Due to their ages and the toll diabetes has taken on their health, it is not
likely that medical therapies developed through SCNT research will be discovered in time to help my grandmothers. It would not be too late, however, to help people like my 32-year-old brother or my 35-year-old best friend, who both suffer from debilitating diseases and injuries.

In an article published last month in The New York Times, former Sen. Danforth wrote: "When we see an opportunity to save our neighbor's lives through stem cell research, we believe that it is our duty to pursue that research and to oppose legislation that would impede us from doing so." When Jack Danforth, a stalwart of the Missouri Republican Party, speaks, I believe that Republican legislators should take heed.

If Republicans at the state and federal levels wish to keep their party the majority party, then we must reflect the diversity of cultures, faiths and ideals of America, rather than the exclusive, singular views paraded by Republican hard-liners. I urge my Republican colleagues, as men and women of faith and consensus, to act in the best interests of our constituents and not cower before a loud radical minority within our party.

Government must take action to allow this technology to flourish - with rational guidelines similar to those of the present-day organ donor program. SCNT research has great potential to benefit the human race. We must not let politics destroy its life-saving potential.


Sherman Thompson Parker is a Republican who represents parts of St. Charles County in the

Missouri House of Representatives.

Sherman Parker

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