THE BLOG
09/28/2012 12:08 pm ET Updated Nov 28, 2012

Of Wrestlers, Arthritis and Republicans: Conn. Senate Candidate Linda McMahon May Block Stem Cell Research

Republican gazillionaire Linda McMahon is running for the Connecticut Senate. Her last Senatorial campaign, (on which she spent over $50 million dollars), described her as a "tough CEO" which seems accurate; this year's campaign re-introduces her as a nice warm-hearted woman of the people -- of which I am not so convinced.

With her husband Vince, Ms. McMahon was co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment. She knows the tremendous demands professional wrestling puts on the body, as 300-pound giants leap and crash and slam onto the mat and each other.

Presumably, too, she knows what happens to wrestlers' bodies -- as they age.

Arthritis happens -- whether brought on by smash-and-crash injury or simple wear and tear. Nearly 27 million Americans suffer from arthritis today, at a cost of roughly $128 billion annually from medical care and lost wages.

Think of a Thanksgiving turkey leg, the white plastic-looking substance at the end of the bones. That's cartilage, which joints must have to operate smoothly. If torn or worn away, it does not repair itself. Resultant arthritic pain can be crippling.

As a Republican, Linda McMahon may be tied to a position that could literally make curing arthritis against the law.

Page 34 of this year's Republican presidential platform calls for a ban on all embryonic stem cell research.

Consider that ban, and how it might affect the work of Connecticut scientist Dr. Caroline Dealy, who is working toward a cure for arthritis. Dr. Dealy wants to replace worn-out cartilage with new: one of her methods would be to use embryonic stem cells to make more specialized cells called chondrocytes -- which in turn become cartilage.

But perhaps McMahon disagrees with the Republican anti-science position?

Unfortunately, no.

Her anti-stem cell position puts McMahon against her own state.

According to the New Haven Register, "McMahon opposes embryonic stem cell research, despite the state's $100 milllion commitment to support both embryonic and adult stem cell work."

Connecticut has one of the greatest stem cell programs in the world:

The state has committed to... $100 million over 10 years... distributing $70 million so far... Scientists from the University of Connecticut, Yale University, Wesleyan University and the Jackson Laboratory thanked the state legislature for the stem-cell initiative, saying it has helped further their research, collaborate with each other, and attract funding from other sources.

What has that $70 million bought so far? From Uconn: "The state funding helped them build up to $167 million in grant funding... 81 inventions and 36 patents."

From Yale:

Yale, meanwhile, reported that it has spun off 40 biotech companies, many from the Yale science department, and has created lab space for these companies. The state's stem cell funding has helped the university attract pre-eminent scientists, said Bruce Alexander, Yale vice president for New Haven and state affairs and campus development.

Yale's stem cell department has grown from two researchers in 2006 to 72 researchers today. In addition, it has created 200 high-tech jobs in Connecticut and generated 132 patents. The state's investment of $6 million in 2010 helped Yale attract $36 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health and $2.6 million from private sources.

Who began that program? Chris Murphy (D-CT). The program is funded by his legislation, the Connecticut Stem Cell Investment Act of 2005.

Former Democratic Governor Jodi Rell signed the bill into law; current Governor Dan Malloy continues strong support for the research effort.

As Governor Malloy said to scientists recently, at a gathering supported by patient advocate group Connecticut United for Research Excellence (CURE): "Connecticut supports you. Your work in this industry, your willingness to be involved in this research, meshes well with Connecticut's great historical traditions."

What are the scientists actually doing with their research grants?

Dr. Ren-He Xu is the director of the stem cell program's core lab. Dr. Xu has been working with embryonic stem cells since 1999, when he started in the lab with Dr. James Thomson of Wisconsin, first to isolate the human embryonic stem cell (hESC). But "state funding was limited" there, and Connecticut's research funding "was the main reason I came here," he said.

Dr. Xu is working on projects which might actually develop vaccines against cancer. He said, "Vaccination with human pluripotent stem cells generates a broad spectrum of immunological and clinical response against colon cancer."

Another scientist, Dr. Marc Lalande, director of the Connecticut stem cell institute, is working on a severe mental disorder called Angelman syndrome. The patients (from childhood) are denied the ability to speak, have seizures, and fits of inappropriate laughter. They require constant care. Dr. Lalande is working with iPS stem cells taken from the patient's skin, a concept developed from studying embryonic stem cells.

Such research matters to every family. My older sister died of leukemia. I remember her every day, and mourn her loss. One of the Connecticut projects aims to use both embryonic and other kinds of stem cells to defeat leukemia, as a visit to the Connecticut Department of Public Health reveals:

One grant aims to assist in the "use of human embryonic stem cells and inducible pluripotent stem cells to study" for Diane Krause, principal investigator at Yale.

Another project that is to receive state funding is James Li's "modeling Parkinson's disease using human embryonic stem cells and... patient-derived stem cells."

Mark Carter is working on the "generation of insulin-producing cells from human embryonic stem cells."

Like the three Musketeers, Laura Grabel, Janice Naegele and Gloster Aaron -- three Wesleyan University colleagues work together: "Grabel provides the ES cell expertise, Naegele the experience with epilepsy models, and Aaron the background in neurophysiology... "

Lawrence J. Rizzolo, focused on blindness, is handling "Co-differentiation of hESC-derive retinal and retinal pignment epithelial progrenitors."

Connecticut is using embryonic stem cell science to benefit all mankind.

Chris Murphy supports that research.

Linda McMahon does not.

On Nov. 6, the voters will decide: between millionaire Linda McMahon -- and Chris Murphy, whose program may help millions of suffering people.

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