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An Open Letter to Nancy Reagan

Dear Mrs. Reagan:

Thank you for putting love and caring above politics by articulating your strong and courageous stand in support of stem cell research.

Like you, I am convinced that stem cell research holds the key to treatment and cures for many of our most intractable medical problems including Alzheimer's disease, juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's, Lou Gehrig's disease, spinal cord injuries, cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, and allergies. These diseases and conditions currently affect more than 100 million Americans.

Unfortunately, as you know, President Bush announced in August 2001 that federal funds would be available to support research on human embryonic stem cells, but he restricted funding to research done on the stem cell lines that had already been derived at the time of his announcement. However, it is estimated that only about a third of these lines are eligible for federally funded research, and even fewer - perhaps as few as four lines - are being widely shared among medical researchers. Many scientists have serious concerns about the purity of the eligible stem cell lines.

Following the announcement, I spoke with Roger Pedersen, one of the world's leading stem cell researchers, and wrote to President Bush expressing my concerns. I noted that because existing stem cell lines have been derived using mouse and cow serum, they might not be suitable for use in treating humans. I also noted that the small number of eligible stem cell lines does not adequately represent the diversity of the population and might not be sufficient to prevent rejection in patients. Additionally, I voiced concern that the President's policy could create a brain drain of top scientists leaving our country for other nations that provide greater freedom and support for research.

All of these concerns have been borne out by our experience since the announcement.

Progress in stem cell research has been painfully slow. Only 19 cell lines are now available in the United States. Meanwhile, researchers in South Korea, Europe, and elsewhere have created new stem cell lines and are developing promising new therapies. Dr. Pedersen himself moved his research to Cambridge, England. The United States is now in serious danger of becoming a second-class power in medical science and falling behind the curve in medical research.

Here in California, we have recognized that current federal policy places unacceptable limits on this critical research. To address this restriction, California passed a law that permits research involving human embryonic and adult stem cells while facilitating the voluntary donation of embryos for stem cell research. Similar legislation has been passed or introduced in other states. In addition, Californians have the opportunity to pass a $3 billion state bond measure this November that would fund stem cell research in the state over the next ten years.

Nevertheless, current federal policy is a roadblock to progress in stem cell research. That is why more than 200 members of Congress from both parties have asked President Bush to change his policy to allow funding of research on stem cells derived from excess fertilized embryos that were developed for infertile couples seeking to have children but not used in their in vitro fertilization process. These embryos, which would otherwise be discarded, could generate hundreds or even thousands of valuable new stem cell lines.

Mrs. Reagan, the addition of your clear voice could well make the difference so that we can achieve a big win for all of our families who are fighting so hard for hope and for the return of their loved ones from the sad abyss of disease.


Barbara Boxer
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer

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