"I couldn't see a thing. Everything was black. I slumped against the wall and steadied myself until slowly my vision started to come back, blurry and plotchy, but at least it wasn't total darkness anymore. This time, I didn't need a doctor to tell me what was happening. When you're battling diabetes, after your fingers and toes, your eyes are the next to go. For the first time I was scared."
- Joe Trippi, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
I'm not alone. 23.6 million Americans suffer from diabetes. And, for all of us, Monday was an important--and emotional--day. President Barack Obama signed an executive order lifting the nation's ban on funding research on new embryonic stem cell lines. With it, there is new hope for millions of diabetes sufferers, including me, as well as millions more suffering from other debilitating diseases.
This isn't just a symbolic gesture - it's a move that actually enables the greatest scientists in our country to get back to work on finding cures. Take just one example:
A developmental biologist at the University of Utah wants to see if embryonic stem cells can "be coaxed into becoming insulin-producing, potentially replacing those ravaged by Type 1 diabetes." Until Obama's decision, she could only use NIH-funded lines created before Aug. 9, 2001, even though they are considered "unrepresentative." And, the researcher couldn't afford to proceed without NIH-backing. Will this study provide the next step towards finding a cure? One can only hope, but now, we'll at least find out the answer.
Obama's decision on stem cells is not only critical for our nation's health, it also signals something even more significant - the return to science-based policy and the embracement, once again, of America's innovation economy.
Unfortunately, many Republicans still don't get it. In referring to Obama's decision on stem cells, Gingrich-protégé and Republican rising star, Congressman Eric Cantor said, "There is a reason it's coming up this week. Why are we going and distracting ourselves from the economy? This is job No 1, let's focus on what needs to be done."
What Cantor doesn't understand is reversing Bush's decision on stem cells is not a 'distraction.' Investing and embracing science and innovation will not only help cure terrible diseases, but, it is inextricably linked with getting America's economy back on track. Let's face it. These are tough economic times. But, what has kept America great is her ability to innovate and grow. Innovation has always driven our success.
If we are going to make it out of this crisis, and we will, the engine will be innovation. Industries like biotechnology will discover new cures to diseases like diabetes and cancer. Clean-tech and alternative energy will solve climate change and power a new 21st century economy. Rebuilding America means building a new innovation economy, which will create millions of jobs and sustain our economic growth for generations to come.
And to get there, we need to have public policies that promote and support continued innovation. The stem cell executive order is just a first step toward moving from research to therapies and cures for patients. In the end, we will need companies to take the research conducted by NIH and universities and turn it into usable medicines. And a lot of these capital-intensive companies are already struggling because of the current economic crisis. Since September 2008, more than 28 biotech companies have shelved promising drug development programs in a number of areas including Alzheimer's, MS, diabetes and cancer. Companies in other promising industries like nanotech and clean tech are feeling the pinch as well. Here's the bottom line - we lose them; we lose innovation; and we lose potential cures.
Obama's executive order opens up a huge new gateway for stem cell research, but this must only be the beginning. This is change we can believe in. With yesterday's announcement, I have new hope we can cure Diabetes and dozens of other diseases - if not for myself, then for my children. And, by investing and believing in innovation we will overcome our current economic woes and ensure our prosperity for decades to come. Thank you, Mr. President.
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