Stem Cell Research Hits Close To Home

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I live in Kansas City, MO and work just over the state line in Overland Park, KS. So when I read this story about the Stowers Institute, a world class medical research facility located about six blocks from where I live, my interest was certainly peaked.

From the AP comes more on the controversial stem cell research:

Yet social conservatives in the Missouri legislature are effectively blocking some of the most ambitious research envisioned by the Stowers staff, saying that research with embryonic stem cells is so immoral it should be a crime.

“I believe that a human embryo is worthy of legal protection,” said state Sen. Matt Bartle (R), who vows to press the fight. “Western medicine has been founded on a principle: First, do no harm.”

Repeated legislative efforts by Bartle and his colleagues forced the Stowers Institute to curtail recruiting and stop planning for a second 600,000-square-foot facility. At the same time, those efforts have spurred creation of an impromptu statewide alliance of business leaders, liberal science advocates and antiabortion Republicans who favor the research for reasons of health care and job growth.

So why is this important for Missouri? Well, first off this means jobs and economic growth in the Heartland. Their investment in Life Sciences were supported across the board by our legislature, and yet now these religious conservatives are trying to stop the important progress that Missouri and Kansas desperately need.

All Stowers researchers now focusing on adult stem cells “say they must be able to work on embryonic stem cells to move their research forward,” he said. “This is a local battle here, but I see it being played out in all places. People believe if they can win the battle in Missouri, they can win it anywhere.”

Missouri is by any estimation a red state — it went strongly for Bush in November and elected as governor Matt Blunt, an antiabortion Republican. Kansas City and St. Louis, which sandwich a largely rural state, have been investing increasingly in life sciences, especially bioscience and plant science, which both cities see as a growth engine.

When the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute got started about five years ago, it found annual research spending among eight institutions — six in Missouri and two in neighboring Kansas — to be $104 million. Last year, the figure was $243 million, said the group’s president, organic chemist Bill Duncan. There were 165 life sciences companies in the area at last count, with about 20,000 employees.

And then more from the “culture of life” crowd:

“We oppose embryonic stem cell research because it destroys the embryo,” said Fichter of Missouri Right to Life. “They’re trying to define human life by its geography. It doesn’t make any difference if it’s in a petri dish, implanted in the womb or in a nursery. A human life is a human life. Are we going to say a 4-year-old is more human than a 2-year-old?”

People, we are losing this race with the rest of the world. Countries all across the globe are pouring billions into this science and our progress as a nation is being hijacked by lawmakers who are trying to turn back the clock on reproductive rights by making an example of stem cells.

I know that they feel what they’re doing is just and the most moral thing to do, but we’re going to be left in the dust unless we get some leadership in Washington who will understand that embryonic stem cell research, and other programs involving non-embryonic stem cells, should be championed.

One last note from the story.

Supporters say that legislative impediments to stem cell research could lead to a decline in research and medical care, with money and talented staff flowing to states with a different approach. Stowers President William B. Neaves said the institute would be working with early stem cells if it were not for Bartle’s attempt to make the research a crime. He said two talented researchers are unwilling to move to Kansas City until the matter has been clarified.

Rubin, chairman of an organization lobbying for the research, said: “There’s a huge economic stake. If a ban on research were to pass, it would send an anti-science signal that would cut off at the knees the efforts we’ve put in place to attract this industry.”

What a shame.

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