The Student Government Association (SGA) presented a referendum on stem cell research during its meeting on March 16.
David Coates, vice president of Government Relations at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, David Moscatello of the Coriell Institute for Medical Research and Kathleen E. Walters, Director of Constituency Outreach in New Jersey all spoke at the referendum.
Coates said that New Jersey leads the way in stem cell research, thanks to funding from the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Institute of Medicine.
Through this funding and a $150 million initiative proposed by Gov. Richard Codey, the Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey was created as a branch of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Rutgers University.
This institution will be used to research adult, fetal and embryonic stem cells.
“In August of 2001, when President Bush addressed the nation, he introduced a limited ability to investigate stem cell research. That promise has all gone south,” Coates said, “They (the Federal government) talked about 78 stem cells, but there are 22. All 22 are in a solution and it makes the cells no good. So where does that leave us? That leaves the states.”
Moscatello explained that stem cell research is not illegal, as some people believe. He said, “New Jersey legislation ‘legalized’ embryonic stem cell research in January 2004. I say legalized in quotes because embryonic stem cell research has never actually been illegal. It’s just that the National Institute of Health will not fund any embryonic stem cell research except for those talked about by President Bush.”
Stem cells are unspecialized cells that are capable of renewing themselves. They divide to produce more stem cells and can become more specialized to carry out specific functions in the body.
Embryonic stem, the type of cells that most interest the Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey, are cells that come from early embryos. These cells can produce all the different cells in an adult body. They are commonly associated with invitro fertilization clinics.
“When someone goes into a fertility clinic, a woman’s eggs are fertilized in a dish and some of these early embryos are implanted into the womb and the rest are frozen for potential future use. If the parents give permission, they can be used for embryonic stem cell research,” Moscatello said.
Walters emphasized that with institutions like the Stem Cell Institute, medical breakthroughs could change the way diseases are treated.
“Stem cell research is about hope for finding cures to diseases including diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and heart disease. Similar to organ donation, these cells fill an urgent medical need that can save millions of lives,” she said.
Coates especially hopes that stem cells treatment will become common practice in the United States because his 12-year-old son, Charlie, has type one diabetes.
“My motivation to be here today is that I want my son to live as long as I do and if you know people who are afflicted with a variety of conditions, I’m sure you would want the best for them too.”
Those interested in getting involved with raising awareness of stem cell research can e-mail Walters at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (609)777-2518 for more information.