Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Episode II: Attack of the Clone

Dear Mr. Stafne:

Thank you for taking time to contact me regarding stem cell research.

As you know, scientists are currently engaged in two basic types of stem cell research. One type is adult stem cell research. Adult stem cells are taken from fully mature cells, such as cartilage or bone marrow. The other type of research is embryonic, where the stem cells are taken from human embryos.

Both adult stem cell and embryonic stem cell research offer great promise.

Adult stem cell research, which does not have any real ethical problems associated with it, has already led to successful human treatment. For example, researchers have treated diabetic patients with islet cells from the pancreas of deceased human donors. More than 80 percent of those treated were able to stop their insulin shots for more than one year. Adult bone marrow cells have also been used to successfully heal chronic skin blemishes in patients. All of these human treatments use adult stem cells. No similar treatments have been developed using embryonic stem cells.

Advocates claim that embryonic stem cells have the potential to be used to treat and better understand numerous diseases. However, it is important to recognize that embryonic stem cell research is a relatively new science, which requires advanced skills and expertise. As policy makers, we must be careful not to oversell the science of embryonic stem cell research. The promise of embryonic stem cell research is very real, but it is still in its infancy.

President Bush's policy funds all types of stem cell research, both adult and embryonic. He is the first President in history to fund embryonic stem cell research, and he is doing so at record levels. Under the President's policy, all embryonic stem cell lines created before August 2001 are eligible for unlimited federal funding. This allows us to explore the promise and potential of stem cell research without crossing a fundamental moral line by providing taxpayer funding that would sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos that have at least the potential for life. It is also very important to note that there is no limit on stem cell research or funding in the private sector.

It is my understanding that certain stem cell lines are contaminated with mouse feeder cells, making their therapeutic use for humans uncertain. If in fact these lines are contaminated, we should consider expanding the current federal policy on human embryonic stem cells in a vigorous and yet responsible manner.

According to Dr. Elias Zerhouni , Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this is a safety concern, but this issue will be of practical significance only if and when embryonic stem cell research reaches the stage of human therapy trials. In the meantime, the lines currently available for use with the federal support are more than sufficient for basic research.

I appreciate your willingness to be a resource to my staff and me on this important issue. Thank you, once again, for contacting me. If I can be of any assistance to you in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me again.

Norm Coleman
United States Senate

The above was the response I received from Senator Coleman's office, but certainly not from Coleman himself, as I received it about an hour after I sent my email to him. Rather it came from an assistant who copy/pasted the standard Bush administration policy response, further demonstrating Senator Coleman's cloned Republican policy. I'm too frustrated and upset by his reply to effectively respond, but I will soon. To be continued.

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