Thursday, March 31, 2005

Spinal Cord Injuries by the Numbers

Originally published March 28, 2005
  • Between 222,000 and 285,000 Americans are living with spinal cord injuries.
  • 11,000 new cases occur each year.
  • 85 percent of spinal cord patients who survive the first 24 hours are still alive 10 years later.
  • 38 years is the average age at injury.
  • 78.2 percent of spinal cord injuries since 2000 have occurred among males.
  • 44 percent of spinal cord injuries are caused by motor vehicle crashes.
  • 88.3 percent of all people with spinal cord injuries live in private homes.
  • 15 is the average number of days spent in a hospital with a spinal cord injury.
  • $682,957 is the average first-year cost for a severe spinal cord injury.
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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Quadriplegic fights to pass legislation to help people with spinal cord injuries

Matt Langenhorst's life was changed forever in an instant on Feb. 8, 2001 when he and his wife Erika were in a car accident along Highway 94 in St. Charles, Mo.

Matt, a St. Charles police officer at the time, was driving an SUV when it slipped on the icy road crashing into a cement barrier and rolling several times. Erika walked away without a scratch on her but Matt, 35, broke his neck.

Erika recalls looking over at her husband, who was unconscious, just lying fully reclined in his seat.

"I was scared," she said.

Matt was airlifted to St. John's Mercy Medical Center where doctors thought the possibility of survival was slim. But Matt pulled through and now lives with the devastating injury of being paralyzed from the neck down.

"Matt's injury is considered a C4 spinal cord injury," Erika said. "He needs care 24 hours a day and spends several hours every day doing intensive therapy."

Matt and Erika moved to Fairview Heights months after the accident to be closer to family. For at least three hours a day, Matt does various exercises and therapy. During one therapy, Matt uses a machine that simulates a bicycle. Matt usually stands up for an hour and he uses electrodes that stimulate the muscles, both of these exercises keep the muscles from getting too weak.

"There's really no hope that I will ever walk again just from the therapy," Matt said.

Matt said that it is difficult going from being very active and in control to having no control over his own body. For over four years Matt has relied on Erika and his parents for everything from scratching an itch to eating. However, Matt is able to move his wheelchair on his own with just a nod of his head.

"There are sensors in the headrest and I have a screen I use to switch modes," he said.

Matt can move forward, backward and recline on his own. He said he prefers the headrest sensors opposed to the other option of the sip and puff where movement is determined by breathing into a straw-like instrument.

Erika said that since Matt in unable to care for himself she stays home and cares for him. And it's easier that way because nursing care is very expensive.

"I'm afraid to leave him just for a couple of minutes because I wonder what would happen if the house caught on fire or if he accidentally hurts himself," she said.

Erika said it's not unusual to pay $18 an hour for nursing care and he would need care at least nine hours a day.

"We can't afford to pay that much money," Erika said. "Maybe if I had a job making $500,000 a year but that isn't likely."

Erika said that one good thing about her taking care of Matt is that they get to spend a lot of time together.

"I wish it didn't have to be under these circumstances but we like being together," she said. "Before being a cop he worked weird hours and I worked a nine-to-five job so now we are together all the time."

Matt and Erika are leaving for Washington, D.C. on April 9 to attend the Cure Paralysis Now Rally on April 12 . There they will meet with senators and congressman at the nation's capital to urge them to pass the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act when it is reintroduced in April.

Matt said he wants the bill to pass because it will help people suffering paralysis from spinal cord injuries by finding a cure.

"I figured I might as well try and fight for a cure and this is what I can do," he said. "It's better than just sitting around doing nothing."

The Cure Paralysis Now Rally will feature speakers who have all been affected by spinal cord injury. Dana Reeve, wife of Christopher Reeve, lost her husband from complications due to his injury and she will be the first speaker. Christopher Reeve, an actor, gained national attention to spinal cord injuries after his paralysis during an equestrian competition in 1995. He died in October 2004.

Matt and Erika said their goal is to get as many people aware of the legislation as possible.

"Most people don't know that much about spinal cord injuries but there are over 500,000 people living with spinal cord injuries," she said.

The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act is broken into three parts: biomedical research, rehabilitation research and quality-of-life programs. Erika and Matt said that the average citizen can help get this bill passed by simply writing, calling or e-mailing their representatives and asking them to pass this bill.

"This bill will really benefit everyone," Erika said. "People might not give much thought about it now but if they have to face it for themselves or someone they love it will be worth it."

By: Tiffany Garner - Of the Suburban Journals - Belleville Journal
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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Seoul blood bank freezes assets for breakthrough cell therapy

Han Hoon, a stem cell therapy pioneer, sweeps back his arm to show off rows of storage tanks that fill the basement of his office building in South Korea's capital.

"Awesome, isn't it," says Han of the 42 gleaming cylinders each measuring 1.5 meters high and 1.2 meters wide where blood from the umbilical cords of 60,000 new-born babies is stored.

"What you are looking at is the world's largest inventory of cord blood units kept in one place," says Han, head of the medical research firm Histostem.

Han says the tanks kept frozen at minus 196 centigrade degree (minus 378 Fahrenheit) contain 1.5 tonnes of umbilical cord blood, 12 percent of the world's total inventory accumulated over five years.

Umbilical cord blood is a source of stem cells, which can morph into specialized body cells and help regenerate damaged organs. Researchers see stem cells holding the key to cures for diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's disease and other disorders.

Han, 51, extracted stem cells from cord blood for the first time in 2003 and has used them in the treatment of more than 200 patients suffering from 17 different diseases.

Success rates vary according to the disease being treated but some 70 percent of patients suffering from diabetes mellitus and 60 percent with liver cirrhosis showed improvement after stem cell treatment, Han says.

Han and his colleagues made headlines in November last year when their patient Hwang Mi-Soon, 37, who had been unable to walk since damaging her spine in an accident two decades earlier, was shown at a press conference taking a few cautious steps with the help of a walking frame.

It was the world's first published case in which a patient with spinal cord injuries had been treated successfully with stem cells from cord blood, Han says.

Hwang remains a patient and says she is making progress, although she still needs leg braces and a frame to walk.

Following the report on the landmark treatment of Hwang, there has been a rush of unsolicited patients from many parts of the world seeking help from Han, most of them suffering from spinal cord injury.

"There are many who are willing to pay anything for the treatment," Han says.

"I tell them to send us their blood samples or gene testing results. After that, we browse collated pools of cord blood to select compatible cells, find multipotent stem cells, isolate and culture them for injection."

Treatment is not cheap. Stem cell therapy for spinal cord injury costs around 100,000 dollars, he says.

Han collected his blood bank by striking a deal with pregnant women who are asked to donate the cord blood when they give birth in return for a guarantee of free stem cell treatment for five years for the baby, if needed. To extend the guarantee for 10 years, they pay a premium of 270,000 won (268 dollars).

Han acknowledges that umbilical cord blood is not the only source of stem cells. They are also found in human embryos, bone marrow and other body parts.

But he says blood is the best because it carries none of the ethical questions associated with using human embryos for medical treatment and is easier to use and more flexible and effective than bone marrow cells.

Technical difficulties exist in isolating stem cells from frozen umbilical cord blood, finding cells with genes matching those of the recipient and selecting the right place in the body to deliver the cells, he says.

Han, a medical doctor with expertise in both immune genetics and bone marrow transplantations, says his ample stockpiles of cord blood in South Korea South Korea provide a fertile soil for experiments on new techniques and treatments.

Han's company carried out 23 stem cell treatments last year and is planning to open a hospital exclusively for the therapy later this year.

"Histostem will expand cell therapies from selected diseases such as spine cord injury, Lou Gehrig's disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- ALS), liver cirrhosis, diabetes millitus to include other diseases," Han said.

"We plan to open the hospital by the end of this year or early next year at the latest. The hospital will be the world's first entirely devoted to stem cell therapies," Han says.

"The hospital will initially have 100 beds but will be expanded to 300 afterwards."

His company is financially strong, posting a net profit of 1.5 billion won (1.5 million dollars) on sales of six billion won last year.

Han says he expects an even better performance this years and plans to go public on the Korea stock exchange after that.

"We seek to list in the tech-heavy Kosdaq by early next year," Han said.
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Adult Stem Cells Can Produce Brain Cells

Experiments involving chicken eggs may have hatched a major advance in stem cell research, as investigators watched adult human stem cells develop into functioning brain cells.

Experts hope that, someday, adult stem cells from a patient's own bone marrow might be used to regrow and replace brain or spinal cord cells lost to injury or disease. That goal had been elusive, however, because adult stem cells have failed to produce significant amounts of neurons.

Until now, that is.

"We found that bone marrow stem cells did make neurons in the environment of the regenerating embryonic [chick] spinal cord," said senior researcher Joel C. Glover, of the Institute of Basic Medical Science at the University of Oslo, in Norway.

"This happened at a much higher rate than had been observed in any other experimental system," he added.

The key to the success of this model lies in as-yet-unidentified compounds within the quickly developing "microenvironment" of the embryonic spinal cord, said Paul Sanberg, a professor of neurosurgery and director of the University of South Florida's Center for Aging and Brain Repair.

Sanberg, an expert in this kind of research, believes that if scientists can identify those compounds, they might then be able to use them as a kind of cellular fertilizer -- encouraging adult stem cells to generate into human neurons.

"This study really shows that the microenvironment a stem cell is placed in is really very critical for defining how that stem cell will work," he said.

The findings appear in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to Glover, his team knew that "the spinal cord of the chicken embryo could regenerate rapidly after an injury, to make many new neurons." So he wondered if, "perhaps the same environment might stimulate [human] bone marrow stem cells to make neurons?"

The Norwegian group tested that theory using fertilized chicken eggs. They first caused injury to the embryo's developing spinal cord. Then they introduced adult stem cells from human bone marrow into the affected area.

Not only did these stem cells quickly develop into neurons to repair the site of injury, "we were able to show for the first time that these neurons were really functional," Glover said.

"They had the right shape, they could generate nerve impulses, and they received contacts from other neurons," he said.

The next step, according to Glover, will be experiments aimed at identifying exactly which compounds within this microenvironment are pushing adult stem cells to turn into neurons.

"We speculate that a number of so-called neural growth factors, which are present in the chicken embryo spinal cord and presumably boost neuron formation during regeneration, are likely candidates," Glover said.

According to Sanberg, the finding also suggests the lowly chicken might someday be a real lifesaver for humans stricken with spinal cord injury or degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.

The pharmaceutical industry, for example, "already uses the chick embryo model to make vaccines and all sorts of things, because you can have a lot of these egg models in place, whereas rat models are much more expensive," Sanberg said. "So, as we try and understand how to make more neurons out of bone marrow, this is a very interesting model and one that could be ramped up commercially."

However, the key finding remains the fact that adult stem cells can be pushed to develop into brain cells, given the right biochemical mix.

"Bone marrow stem cells from adults are very attractive for this because they can be obtained easily, they are numerous, and they have already been studied and used in clinical treatments for blood and immune disorders for many years," Glover said.

Use of adult stem cells would also get around ethical and moral issues that continue to dog the use of human embryonic stem cells -- although Glover stressed that, in many cases, embryonic stem cell research remains crucial.

Nevertheless, he said, "if we can find out how to make neurons from bone marrow stem cells in a cell culture dish, we'd have a readily accessible source of neurons for brain repair."

"This will take a lot of work," he added. "But at least now it seems possible."

By: E.J. Mundell - HealthDay Reporter
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BrainGate Chip Shows Progress in Clinical Tests

A clinical trial at a Warwick rehabilitation center of a sensor that would allow quadriplegics to use thoughts to control devices is "encouraging," a principal investigator for the study said.

The BrainGate Neural Interface System is being developed by Foxboro-based Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems and is an outgrowth of research conducted by a Brown University researcher.

"The patient can use his thoughts to move a cursor on the screen of the computer, for his television," said Dr. Jon Mukand, an investigator and medical director for the Southern New England Rehabilitation Center. The television controls operate through an infrared system and allow the patient to change channels, control the volume and turn the set on and off.

The study is being conducted at the Sargent Rehabilitation Center in Warwick. It is the first study site that Cyberkinetics has chosen. The sensor was placed on the patient?s brain during a surgery at Rhode Island Hospital.

The BrainGate system used in the trial was provided by Cyberkinetics, the sponsor of the study. The system stems from research conducted in the lab of Dr. John Donoghue, chairman of neuroscience at Brown University.

The BrainGate sensor was implanted on the primary motor cortex portion of the brain of a man with a three-year-old spinal cord injury. One hundred micro electrodes were placed on the brain. Researchers then recorded activity on the neurons.

As Mukand describes it, researchers directed the patient to imagine moving an arm. Doctors recorded that activity to program the computer connected to the BrainGate microchip.

"When you see a pattern of electrical activity, that information is then used to control the cursor," Mukand said. The technique is called "linear regression" - correlating movements with patterns of electrical activity.

Once it was programmed, the patient was then able to use his thoughts to control the cursor, television and able to manipulate a prosthetic hand that?s linked to the computer system. "This means there is potential for helping people with severe disabilities control external devices with their thoughts," Mukand said.

Investigators at Sargent recorded results from the study over a six-month period. They found no bleeding at the implantation site, and the patient has had no headaches, Mukand said.

Investigators can ensure the device is working by asking the patient to move the cursor on the screen to other points, Mukand said.

"He can control the cursor merely by thinking about it," he said. The patient can also play computer games like Pong, open simulated e-mail messages and other more complex computer tasks by using thoughts.

The next step in the development of the device, which has been in progress for a decade, is to recruit more patients for the study of the device. The FDA approved the BrainGate study for five patients, Mukand said, and investigators are actively having discussions with a number of people. The study is expected to last for about 13 months for each patient, who will perform tasks with the device. At the end of the study, each patient will undergo another surgery to have the device removed or could have the option to participate in future studies.

"Since this is the first human study, we need to be very selective," Mukand said. The device was previously tested on monkeys at Brown University.

The goal is to eventually miniaturize the BrainGate sensor and reduce the size of the external hardware to make the program more easily usable, Mukand said.

"Then we hope the device will be functional and more easily used by the patient and control a variety of systems that will eventually make them more independent," Mukand said.

While the patient in the clinical trial sustained a spinal cord injury, the device can be used on quadriplegia induced by strokes, other injuries or muscular dystrophy.

The BrainGate system may not be available commercially for another five to 10 years, Mukand said. The length of time it takes for study depends on how the research progresses, he said.

The principal investigator, Mukand is also on the faculty of Brown University, Boston University and Tufts University. The surgery to implant the sensor was conducted at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence by Dr. Gerhard M. Friehs, director of functional neurosurgery and associate professor of clinical neurosciences at Brown Medical School.

By: Katie Haughey
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Once Hopeless Patients Seeking Genetic Miracles

¤Ñ Park Seung-yu, a 34-year-old with a spinal injury that left him paralyzed, becomes excited when he reads articles about Hwang Woo-suk, a genetics professor at Seoul National University. Mr. Park attends every lecture by Mr. Hwang, and he is not the only one. Mr. Hwang's lectures are attended by many who suffer from incurable conditions or diseases.

Last year, Mr. Hwang successfully produced embryonic stem cells from a cloned human embryo, making headlines around the world. It is widely hoped that the cells may one day be used to cure any number of chronic or terminal illnesses.

After the news of the breakthrough, Mr. Park and others who are struggling with their health felt they now faced a brighter future.

Physicians around the country report that patients persistently demand to know when they can undergo stem cell treatments, despite the still-experimental nature of the research.

Mr. Hwang himself has warned against too much optimism.

"From time to time, we hear news about stem cell treatments' successes around the world, but we are only at the stage of confirming the possibility of effective medical uses," the scientist said. "To make the treatments widely accepted, we have to go through a lot of steps. We have to obtain cells of specific organs from stem cells and then conduct animal tests to ensure safety. We also have to do clinical tests. We have a long way to go."

Experts say that Korea's medical technology, with very few exceptions, is far behind that used in the advanced countries. Though the Ministry of Science and Technology says Korean researchers are acclaimed around the world for cloning embryonic stem cells, Korea's adult stem cell research lags behind that of advanced countries.

"Stem cell research has been earthshaking for the medical community, reshaping the paradigm of medical technologies, but the people and the government must provide broad, steady support so Korean scientists to focus on their work," said Professor Oh Il-hwan, head of the Institute of Cell and Gene Therapy of the Catholic Medical Center, a hospital affiliated with the Medical School of the Catholic University of Korea.

Korea plans to invest 10 billion won ($10 million) a year over the next decade in genetics research, but not all the funds will go into the stem cell studies. In contrast, the state of California will invest $300 million a year for the next decade in stem cell research alone.

Korean genetic scientists said what troubles them is not the lack of funding, but the high expectations of the public, and patients in particular.

Seo Wu-hyeon, 63, suffers from multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord, leading to fatigue, weakness, numbness and other problems. Mr. Seo said he spent 20 million won seeking stem cell therapy at a clinic in Korea, but his condition deteriorated radically after the treatment.

Mr. Seo filed a suit against the clinic and a supplier of the stem cells. The case was joined by nine other patients who faced similar problems.

A survey by the JoongAng Ilbo conducted in January revealed the difference in how researchers and terminal patients perceive stem cell treatment. Among the 1,030 surveyed participants, genetic scientists specialized in embryonic stem cells said therapeutic use of stem cells will not be possible for at least three years. In contrast, 35 percent of the patients polled said they expected treatment with the therapy within three years.

During the last year, the Korea Food and Drug Administration approved treatment with stem cells for 30 patients. The administration eased the regulations governing clinical uses of stem cells in July to encourage research.

Before the revisions, stem cell transplants in Korea were almost unheard of.

The government body estimated that about 400 cases of autologous stem cell transplants were conducted in Korea last year, because such procedures do not require the administration's approval. The Food and Drug Administration, however, said there had not been enough clinical studies in stem cell techniques to make the therapy widely available.

Researchers who have knowledge in the field are even more prudent. A neural recovery project team at Inha University's medical school gave autologous stem cell transplants to 11 patients suffering from spinal cord injuries. Of the six patients, whose spinal cords were injured less than two weeks before receiving the transplants, five patients showed signs of neural recovery. Yang Seok-ju, a 43-year-old patient who could not even sit on a wheelchair, was able to do push-ups after the therapy.

Park Hyeong-cheon, the leader of the medical research team, however, is cautious in explaining the outcome. "We were not able to clearly prove how the stem cell transplant is related with the recovery," Dr. Park cautioned.

"It has been only about five years since stem cell research has been actively pursued in Korea," said Professor Oh with the Catholic University of Korea's medical school. "But, many patients misunderstand and believe that the therapy is available."
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Poll: Voters Back Stem-Cell Research

Advocates making a major push on Beacon Hill this week for legislation allowing embryonic stem cell research released the results of a new survey that shows strong voter support for the plan.

Meanwhile, a 20-member coalition of scientists, advocacy groups, businesses and researchers held a press conference yesterday introducing the formation of MassCURE, the Massachusetts Citizens United for Research Excellence. One of the member organizations, the Newton-based Civil Society Institute, released the results of a poll showing widespread support for the plan among religions and political parties.

Gail Pressberg, senior fellow with Civil Society Institute, described the polling results as "unmistakable and widespread support'' for the pending legislation.

"These findings make it clear that the few vocal opponents out there are almost speaking for no one but themselves,'' Pressberg said.

The results showed that 81 percent of those polled support legislation sponsored by Senate President Robert Travaglini, D-East Boston. Fifteen percent are opposed.

The legislation would establish a state policy of supporting and permitting "research and clinical applications involving the derivation and use of human embryonic stem cells, human embryonic germ cells, placental and umbilical cord cells and any human adult stem cells." The legislation states that reproductive cloning would be prohibited.

A review board would be appointed to monitor ethical and legal standards and establish safeguards. The board would have to approve the use of any donated human embryos.

The Legislature is expected to debate the issue in the coming weeks.

Of those polled, 70 percent said they support embryonic stem cell research; 21 oppose it. The poll showed that 62 percent of Roman Catholics support embryonic stem cell research, along with 69 percent of unenrolled voters, 53 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of rural/small town residents.

The poll showed that voters also support somatic cell nuclear transfer, also known as therapeutic cloning. Voters support that process 62 percent to 30 percent, but that figure jumps to 80 percent to 13 percent in favor when additional information about the process was provided to the voter. Therapeutic cloning does not create human life but is used to generate stem cells for medical research.

Gov. Mitt Romney, and many lawmakers have reservations about Travaglini's plan because they oppose therapeutic cloning.

Although the group that paid for the survey supports stem cell research, the pollster said his company is "not in the business of getting the client the results'' to back their position.

"It is true the organization that hired us supports stem cell research but we have a reputation to maintain for honest polling," said Guy Molymeaux, partner and vice president of Peter D. Hart Research Associates Inc.

The Civil Society Institute commissioned the study, which was conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates Inc. The survey of 606 likely voters in Massachusetts was conducted between March 7 and March 9.

The institute is a member of a 20-member coalition that was announced yesterday to lobby for the passage of the legislation.

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference has launched an advertising campaign denouncing the legislation. The Catholic Conference opposes embryonic stem cell research.

"We feel that opponents to the bill are very active and so we feel like the other side has to be equally active so misinformation doesn't override the facts," said Don Gibbons, a spokesman for Harvard Medical School, a member of the coalition. "Our research community deserves the support of a coalition like this."

Other members include the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Boston University, National Council on Spinal Cord Injury and the Massachusetts Medical Society.

By: Jennifer Fenn - Eagle Boston Bureau
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Researcher, Doctor Giving Hope To Spinal Injury Sufferers

One of the world's leading spinal injury researchers shared the latest developments with patients at Craig Hospital Tuesday.

Drew Wills loved to run, climb mountains and pedal bicycles. Then a terrible ski accident severed his spinal cord. Life as he knew it has ended, but he remains optimistic about the future.

"I do have hope that some day I will have my legs again," Wills said.

Dr. Scott Falci thinks that is a distinct possibility. "Oh, I think, absolutely, in his lifetime we will be going to clinical trial."

Falci from Craig Hospital and Dr. Ake Sager from the Karolinksa Institute in Seden have joined forces to give hope to patients with spinal cord injuries. The hope lies in stem cells -- cells that could be implanted in an injured spinal cord and multiply as new, healthy nerve cells.

Dr. Sager believes he has arrived at the last hurdle in his research with laboratory animals and stem cells.

"The last hurdle, from my perspective, would be to show in a laboratory animal in a lab experiment the very thing you want to happen in the patient," he said.

When Dr. Sager's laboratory animals move and walk again after receiving stem cells, then Dr. Falci can begin to implant the stem cells in people.

Falci and Sager said they are only about two years away from the day stem cell research will move from animals to humans. When that day comes, Wills would like to be the first in line to receive stem cells.

"There are such things as dancing with your wife and your daughter," he said. "So it would mean a lot to me to be able to do those things again. Spinal cord research gives me that hope."
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Stem Cells can be 21st Century Penicillin

Positioning Washington as an important player in the national debate over embryonic stem cell research, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Rep. Shay Schual-Berke introduced legislation recently that would authorize this pioneering science.

The timing for this potential legislation could not be better. Stem cells hold the promise of leading to treatments and cures for catastrophic diseases that plague more than 100 million Americans, including diabetes, Parkinson's, cancer, Alzheimer's, spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis. Moreover, the state is primed for such cutting edge science because it is home to several large research institutions and a burgeoning biomedical industry.

Unfortunately, for too long, this groundbreaking research has been tremendously hampered. Indeed, pro-embryonic stem cell bills have been introduced twice before -- to no end.
Opponents, including conservative lawmakers and religious leaders, cited sanctity-of-life issues and characterized the process, called Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, as reproductive human cloning.

They could not be more wrong; SCNT is about saving lives and the betterment of humanity, plain and simple. We are doing a great injustice to humanity and the future if we allow ourselves to be frightened by the unknown and political and religious agendas.

Imagine what our world would be like if Alexander Fleming, John Sheehan and Andrew Moyer had not invented penicillin from mold. Today, illnesses from pneumonia and strep throat to meningitis and rheumatic fever are easily treated, but in the days before this miracle drug was developed, thousands of people died each week, month and year from those diseases.

Stem cells have the potential of being the penicillin of the 21st century. Yet, despite the support of three former presidents, hundreds of members of Congress on both sides of the political spectrum, plus 48 Nobel laureates, and countless millions of Americans across the country, the administration announced three years ago that research on the existing stem cell lines would receive financing from the National Institutes of Health, but no new lines could be created with government monies. This decision severely limited the resources available to scientists and doctors.

Greatly exacerbating matters, President Bush's decision to limit federal funding for stem cells and to restrict the types of stem cells that can be used was recently dealt a serious blow. A study conducted by University of California-San Diego found that stem cell lines approved by the administration had been grown on mouse-feeder layers and were likely unsuitable for human research. This finding strongly points to the need for state governments, which can establish laws to supersede the federal restrictions, to move stem cell research forward.

Already, a number of states are taking up the challenge to clear the path for scientists to conduct life-saving biomedical discoveries through stem cell research. In California, voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 71, creating a formal program to allocate $3 billion in state bonds over the next 10 years to stem cell research.

Major initiatives have been proposed also in New Jersey, Wisconsin and Connecticut, as well as many other states. Together, they represent an enormous step forward in the fight to unlock the potential of this landmark life-saving science.

With this in mind, Hadassah is sponsoring SOS: State of Stem Cells, a national advocacy effort in which thousands of our organization's members in all 50 states, including Washington, are traveling to their state capitals this month to encourage legislators to pass bills and provide funding for stem-cell research.

We understand that such scientific breakthroughs are essential to countless millions of men, women and children suffering from debilitating and deadly ailments. At the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, scientists continue to conduct research on some of the oldest stem-cell lines approved by the National Institutes of Health and are leading the way in the treatment of Parkinson's disease by using stem cells to generate dopaminergic neurons. They recently succeeded in showing that human embryonic stem cells can improve the functioning of a laboratory rat with Parkinson's disease. This is reason for hope.

This hope is something the people of California seized on by passing Proposition 71. It is something that state governments across the country should invest in today. Indeed, it is now imperative for the Washington Legislature to overwhelmingly pass the bills proposed by Kohl-Welles and Schual-Berke. Such brave action would breathe new life into the famous words of Justice Louis Brandeis, who said that the states are the "laboratories of democracy."

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