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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Senator Norm Coleman on Stem Cell Research

Dear Ms. Young:

Given your interest in embryonic stem cell research, I wanted to update you on recent activity in the Senate to this end.

As you may know, I support both adult and embryonic stem cell research, but am opposed to the use of taxpayer dollars for the destruction of embryos. Fortunately, scientific advances now offer ways to conduct embryonic stem cell research without harming embryos.

Both last year and this year I voted against legislation (S. 5) to allow federal funding on all kinds of embryonic stem cell research. The President has promised to veto these bills, and there are not enough votes to override this veto. However, this year I am pleased that my legislation, the HOPE Act (S. 30), which supports stem cell research that does not involve the destruction of embryos but can still yield pluripotent stem cells, passed the Senate. This is an important bill and offers a meaningful way forward on this research.

The Hope Act will expand federal policy on stem cell research by allowing federal dollars for a continuous supply of new embryonic and pluripotent stem cell lines not currently funded. If we can create pluripotent stem cell lines without destroying embryos, then why not pursue these methods?

In fact, several of these methods are already proven successful and some even have benefits that traditional embryonic stem research does not have, yet they are not receiving federal funding. Two approaches, altered nuclear transfer and direct reprogramming of ordinary body cells, do not harm embryos and offer the added scientific advantage of providing tailor-made pluripotent stem cell lines of specific genetic types. Scientific proof of principle for altered nuclear transfer has been established in mouse studies by Rudolf Jaenisch of MIT, and ongoing progress in direct reprogramming is being reported by scientists at Harvard University and other leading research centers in the United States and abroad.

Another approach involves obtaining stem cells from IVF embryos that have already died a natural death. This has already been accomplished by Miodrag Stojkovic and associates in Valencia , Spain who have created the first well-documented human embryonic stem cell line derived from a live cell harvested from a dead embryo. This cell line behaves identically to those derived by destroying healthy embryos--think of this as organ donation for embryos. Each of these approaches would avoid the current ethical and political controversy while opening federal research dollars for additional stem cell lines.

Some believe that S. 5 will open the doors to research on a large store of embryos already being discarded by in vitro fertilization clinics. However, a recent RAND study shows that only 2.8% of embryos from fertility clinics are slated for research, and an even smaller percent of these can actually be converted into stem cell lines. The vast majority of embryos from IVF clinics, nearly 90%, are specifically designated for future family-building, not stem cell research.

Beyond ethical implications, the political reality is that S.5 will be vetoed by the President and it is highly unlikely the veto will be overturned. Thus no new stem cell lines will qualify for federal funding unless another approach is offered. That's why I have been urging the House to take up a counterpart to the HOPE Act. My hope is that both the supporters and opponents of S.5 will see the HOPE Act as a way to actually move forward because it will immediately allow federal funding for new embryonic and pluripotent stem cell research.

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter. Please know that, while we may agree at times and disagree at other times, I always appreciate hearing from you and I value your advice.

Norm Coleman
United States Senate

I have no problems with pursuing all methods - but believe that if embryonic stem cell research is morally troublesome, so is in vitro fertilization which produces way more embryos than are used. Most of those embryos are destroyed. I would doubt Coleman's figure that "90% of the embryos are designated for future family building and not research."