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Don C. Reed

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Undo Damage to the Komen Reputation: Support Stem Cell Research

Posted: 02/ 8/2012 5:22 pm

The resignation of Karen Handel, formerly Vice President for Public Policy of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, is cause for applause for all who support breast cancer research and treatment, and want it unhindered by politics.

But it is important to undo damage Handel may have supported -- especially Komen's reported unwillingness to fund embryonic stem cell research.

This matters to me.

My mother died of breast cancer at age 52. My younger sister is a survivor, but even she had to go through surgery and chemotherapy hell just to stay alive, and she knows there are no guaranteed victories against this horrific disease.

For years the Komen group has been a bright spot of hope. I have "run" (a more accurate term would be shuffled) in pink ribbon semi-marathons, happy in the belief this organization supported breast cancer research on a non-political basis. When we released the homing pigeons, and they soared across the sky, it united us in hope. Once I addressed the crowd about the benefits of embryonic stem cell research, and afterward two nuns hurried over -- to say they agreed with me.

My family is Catholic, and like the vast majority of that faith (69% in a recent poll) we strongly support embryonic stem cell research. But the cancer cure effort is unquestionably hobbled by religious conservatism, and it must be acknowledged that the Church is the world's largest property holder, and as such wields enormous power over charity.

For instance, the American Cancer Society supports embryonic stem cell research (The American Cancer Society stated that it "has consistently supported, both in its written formal testimony and in oral testimony to policymakers, the proposed National Institutes for Health (NIH) guidelines for scientific research using human embryonic stem cells" ), but will not fund it -- apparently because of opposition from Catholic bishops.

But Susan G. Komen had the courage to stand side by side with Planned Parenthood -- surely it would never allow itself to be bullied into an anti-science position?

Planned Parenthood is for the poor who might otherwise not receive medical evaluation of cancer in time to save their lives. Once, on a visit to Sacramento, I stopped off at a local Planned Parenthood office. I had the perhaps foolish idea to just drop in and express appreciation for their long support of women's rights. But when I entered the office, expecting to find a more or less empty waiting room. It was jam-packed with women, most looking as if they had seen better days financially. The exhausted receptionist was polite, but plainly had no time for idle chat.

For the revered Komen organization to not only back away from its long-term alliance with Planned Parenthood, but to not fund potentially life-saving research?

That was a blow.

Komen is hopefully returning to its former productive relationship with Planned Parenthood. But it must also remove any ideological prejudice against stem cell research, and get back in touch with mainstream American science.

Komen's February 5 statement as to why they do not currently support embryonic stem cell research? "To this point, embryonic stem cell research has not shown promise for application in breast cancer."

This is weak, and unsupported by fact.

Many scientists are doing work with various stem cells, including embryonic, to answer the devastation of cancer.

Like Dr. Dan Kaufman, M.D.,Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota, who specializes in embryonic stem cell research targeting cancer.

Using Natural Killer Cells (NKCs) from embryonic stem cells Dr. Kaufman has wiped out breast cancer cells in a petri dish, as well as numerous forms of cancer in lab rats. "In a study of human tumors growing in mice, University of Minnesota researchers (led by Kaufman) have found that immune cells derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) completely eliminated the tumors in 100 per cent -- 13 of 13 -- of mice tested."

Cancerous tumors "completely eliminated...100%" -- what other approach can make that claim? And the Komen Foundation sees no promise there? They should look again.

Is not the life of a woman more important than a few cells in a petri dish?

 
 
 

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