Are cures possible for paralysis, blindness, and deafness -- in our lifetimes?
Despite overwhelming opposition by the Republican Party, embryonic stem cell research has made huge leaps forward in the fight to cure chronic disease and disability.
None of this would have been possible, had not President Barack Obama kept his campaign promise to overturn his Republican predecessor's stem cell restrictions.
- A stem cell 'gel' has been designed to deliver nerve regeneration to even completely severed spines.
- Embryonic stem cells from humans have restored hearing to small deaf mammals.
- In the fight against blindness, human trials with embryonic stem cells move ahead safely.
Seventeen years ago, when my son Roman Reed was paralyzed in a college football accident, I had no way of knowing his possible cure would involve politics.
But oh, how it did! A small California law named after my son (the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act of 1999) provided funding for an embryonic stem cell therapy for paralysis, which went all the way to human trials. A bill to fund that law again is currently before Governor Jerry Brown. (AB 1657 would add a one-dollar increase to traffic tickets, revenues to fund "Roman's Law" again.)
The Religious Right component of the "new" Republican party has attacked embryonic stem cell research with all its considerable might, both nationally, and locally. AB 1657 passed the California Assembly and Senate -- with only two Republican votes.
Fortunately, Democrats both in California and all across the country stood strong, overwhelmingly supporting the research, exactly as does the American public. While we appreciated the moderate Republicans who stood beside us, it was Democrats who made embryonic stem cell research possible, and they deserve our thanks today.
It took guts to stand against the avalanche of negative nonsense the opposition made up and flung at us. But Democrats took a stand on behalf of America's suffering millions. Their steadfastness is the reason we are today so much closer to a cure.
But one thing is certain: If we do not fund the research, there will be no cures.
We know where President Obama stands. He promised to support the research, and he did.
But his rival? Although he seems capable of changing his mind, Mr. Romney has stated he would "absolutely" sign a Constitutional Amendment on "personhood" issues: a position which would almost certainly ban the research.
His running mate Paul Ryan was actually a co-sponsor on a personhood bill.
But surely a Romney/Ryan administration would not neglect the world-renowned National Institutes of Health, the crown jewel of American research, key source of funding for scientists -- surely the NIH would be able to continue this vital research?
On the Ryan Budget, which supposedly details the Republican plan for the future, there is no mention of the National Institutes of Health at all.
According to Jeffrey Mervis from Science Insider:
Any scientist interested in what congressional Republican leaders think about basic research... need not read... the budget plan unveiled today by Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), chair of the budget committee...and fiscal standard bearer for his party. [...] The 99-page document is a statement of political philosophy.
See for yourself. Look at the graph for NIH spending -- (click on 'NIH' in the left column) -- the Senate budgetary request of $30 billion is there, but the House? Nothing. Ryan's proposal does not mention it.
Accordingly, we can only guess what the actual impact of a Ryan budget would be.
As there is no specificity, Senator Tom Harkin could only extrapolate from the Ryan Budget, saying:
The budget plan proposed by House Committee Chairman Paul Ryan... is even more worrisome. In fiscal year 2013, the Ryan plan would cut non-defense spending by 5 per cent. The following year, the Ryan plan would cut non-defense spending by 19 per cent. If that cut were applied equally across the government, the number of new NIH grants for promising research projects would shrink by... more than 16,000 over a decade.
And that's the good news! The bad news is Ryan may simply wish to dispense with the National Institutes of Health altogether. I cannot imagine such an act of colossal ignorance, but we have no way to know.
We are not told.
I want to know where the candidates stand on issues of such vital importance as research to cure disease and disability -- and I am not reassured by the "just trust us" attitude of the Romney/Ryan ticket.
Obama says exactly what will happen. He established a clear policy on stem cell research, and his recommendations and actions on NIH funding are a matter of record.
He fulfilled his campaign promise to overturn the Bush restrictions. He said what he would do, and he kept his word.
The Romney/Ryan approach?
Just trust us.
The man who will not even release his tax returns?
His partner who apparently falsely claimed a near world-record shattering time in the marathon?
The stem cell issue is crucial to me, and should be anyone who does not want to keep spending more than a trillion dollars (literally) every year on chronic disease.
But it is also revelatory of a larger issue: Romney seems to want us to just have faith that he will do the right thing, even though he won't say what it is until he is installed in the presidency.
The blank box on the Ryan budget for the National Institutes of Health is like a blank check Mr. Romney would ask us to sign.
To give him power.
No, thank you.
I will support the man who says what he is going to do, and then follows through, keeping his word, steady as the sun -- the man who is America's president today.