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News from World Stem Cell Summit

Advocates of embryonic stem cell research spent   10/4/10  the need to better educate the public and remain on guard against political opponents

The emphasis came as nearly 1,000 scientists and researchers from around the globe for the first day of the World Stem Cell Summit, a 3 day conference.  

  • “Opponents know the process and they are actively trying various maneuvers,” said Michigan Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods, said during a panel at the summit. “We must constantly be vigilant.”

Experts highlighted clinical trials using adult and embryonic stem cells to better treat disease, regenerative medicine against aging, and ethical lessons learned from the past. But politics over embryonic research hung over the conference, even though it encompasses the entire stem cell field.

  • Opponents of embryonic stem cell research — which relies on leftover embryos from fertility treatment that would be thrown away — view the science as immoral since it must destroy the embryo and weighed in on the summit;
  • “There is a criminal statute in our state that pertains to assaulting or attempting to kill a pregnant woman,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron of the Archdiocese of Detroit said in a statement. “How can there be such a disconnect with what occurs in an assault case and what happens in a laboratory when a human life is destroyed?”

Proponents criticized local legislative attempts at regulation and a federal lawsuit that seeks to ban federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. uring several sessions, speakers cited the need to address the language of a 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment that led to the federal lawsuit.

  • The amendment prohibits the use of federal funds to destroy human embryos.  Rosario Isasi of McGill University in Montreal called the case “a step back in national policy,” while Sheri Mark, president of Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures, called the lawsuit, “a wake-up call.”

Advocates say all forms of stem cell research must be studied to move the field ahead, but it’s difficult when the issue has become a political football. “This is an exciting time in stem cell research,” said Sean Morrison, director of the U-M Center for Stem Cell Biology. The University of Michigan on 10/3/10 announced that it created its first stem cell line.

  • “On one hand,” Morrison said, “we are finally starting to deliver on some of the opportunities created and the world is coming to see what’s happening in Michigan;
  • “On the other hand, the federal courts could soon do serious damage to the field by blocking federal funding. It never seems like we get off the rollercoaster.”(