Wisconsin Stem Celll Now

Stem Cell Now Blog

October 31st, 2010

Where the Candidates Stand

In the Governor's Race (source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 7, 2010):

If you were governor, would you sign a bill banning the University of Wisconsin from working with embryonic stem cells? Tom Barrett: As governor, I will do everything I can to promote Wisconsin as the world's leader in embryonic stem cell research, and I will veto any legislation that curbs stem cell research in Wisconsin.

Scott Walker: Wisconsin should be a national leader in finding cures to diseases, and as science has shown, we can realize the potential of stem cell research without destroying human embryos or resorting to human cloning. We can both protect the earliest stages of life and find cures. That's a win-win scenario that we hope our opponents would embrace.

Note: Scott Walker repeatedly has refused to give a direct answer to the question of whether he supports a ban on embryonic stem cell research (source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 12, 2010). Walker spokesperson Jill Bader has said “We are done re-answering questions on this topic” (source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 15, 2010). In the race for U.S. Senate (source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 28, 2010):

On the Issues: Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Russ Feingold: Favors federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Ron Johnson: Opposes funding for embryonic
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stem cell research; favors adult stem cells or umbilical-cord cells.

October 26th, 2010

The Scientists Strike Back

I have always been impressed by the passion and dedication that medical researchers bring to the search for cures.  Clive Svendsen, who has since left the University of Wisconsin for California, would get visibly moved when he spoke to me about the patients with ALS that he knew, and how his lab was trying to help them.  When my wife Heidi met Harvard researcher Doug Melton several years ago, she was touched by Dr. Melton's personal story of how he changed his entire career path to focus on stem cell research after both of his children developed juvenile diabetes.  The men and women doing this research are truly inspiring and honorable human beings.

One of our goals when we founded Wisconsin Stem Cell Now was to be the voice of the researchers.  We wanted to stand up for them, in the face of misinformation and scare tactics about “mad scientists.”  We also wanted to allow them to keep focused on their work, and not get distracted by political grandstanding.  We also knew that researchers who work for the UW system have to be careful when they speak out publicly on political issues.Short Prom Dresses

But enough is enough.  Today, the scientists struck back.

At the Isthmus newspaper in Madison, reporter Andrew Casper describes how this year's gubernatorial race has turned stem cell researchers into “reluctant activists.”  Casper interviews several researchers, in addition to Tom Still, the President of the Wisconsin Technology Council.  Key quote:

According to a recent Harris poll, 72% of adults support embryonic stem cell research. But opposition to this research is a critical issue on the religious right and thus has been embraced by people running for public office.

In his campaign, Walker has said he opposes state funding for the research. Still calls this a “poor fort,” because state funding is nearly negligible when compared to private and federal outlets. Indeed, there are currently no state grants for stem cell research in Wisconsin.

Walker, says Still, has not publicly committed to seeking a state ban on embryonic stem cell research. A statewide ban exists in South Dakota and Walker told abortion opponents this spring that he would support such a ban in Wisconsin. But he and his campaign have refused to confirm that stance, possibly fearing backlash from voters enthused by the long-term potential of this research to produce new treatments for Parkinson's, diabetes and traumatic spinal cord injuries.

Walker says he opposes the destruction of human life for the sake of research and plans — if elected — to support adult stem cell research rather than embryonic. This stance has garnered him the support of pro-life voters and pro-life groups, but angered many scientists.

Stephen Duncan, a stem cell researcher at the [Medical College of Wisconsin] in Milwaukee, calls some of Walker's statements about the possibilities of adult stem cells versus embryonic stem cells “blatant lies,” because Walker has implied that adult stem cells hold as much promise as embryonic stem cells.

That adult stem cells hold the same potential as embryonic stem cells is simply not true, says Duncan, who works with both types of cells in his lab.

The entire article can be read here.

In addition, at a news conference today at the home of Stemina Biomarkers Discovery, a Madison company that uses human embryonic stem cells to create drug screening technologies, company spokespersons were joined by researchers Tim Kamp and David Gamm.  The speakers condemned political rhetoric that spreads misinformation about stem cell science in order to garner votes.

Here is an excerpt from the press release issued at the news conference:

Kamp, director of UW–Madison’s Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Center, said potential applications for all of the cell types are expanding, with advancements in one area often contributing to achievements in the others. However, the overall progress does not mean one type of cell can substitute for another.

Human embryonic stem cells continue to be the “gold standard’’ for a master stem cell type and advancing scientists’ understanding of the new induced pluripotent stem cells requires careful comparison with embryonic stem cells. Without access to such critical control systems, Kamp said scientists could wind up wasting precious time and resources. Handicapping the ability of researchers to do the scientifically indicated experiments will put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage relative to other countries where this research flourishes. In the end, it will result in lost opportunities for new jobs and first access to promising new treatments for a range of diseases.

“We need to continue exploring every avenue because there are advantages, disadvantages and varying capabilities with these cell types,’’ Kamp said. “For example, although adult stem cells show great promise at being able to repair heart and nerve tissue, acquiring adult heart and brain stem cells would require invasive and risky procedures. And induced pluripotent stem cells have shown a tendency to retain memory of their original cell type, so we still have some hurdles to overcome compared with our progress in human embryonic stem cells.’’

Kamp and Gamm, a UW–Madison stem cell researcher and assistant professor of ophthalmology, pointed to recent studies that highlight some of the differences among the cells. While it is true that the cells show striking similarities in some respects, the recent studies show important distinctions.

One paper, published earlier this year in Nature by Harvard scientist George Daley, found that cell‐type origin affected the efficiency of the differentiation process. A second study, published in Nature Biotechnology by Konrad Hochedlinger and colleagues at the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Regenerative Medicine, described the extent to which induced pluripotent stem cells retained genetic markers from their past lives as skin, blood or other types of progenitor cells.

UW–Madison’s Gamm said such studies are providing important new insights into critical aspects of human cell development and raise new possibilities for patients, their families and society. At this critical point, it would be unfortunate for polarizing rhetoric to translate into new and excessive restrictions on research or uncertainties for scientists who are working to manage complex interdisciplinary projects that involve the living cells.

“Human embryonic stem cell research is an important component of an intense effort to better understand and find treatments for incurable diseases,’’ Gamm said. “Furthermore, human embryonic stem cells serve as the blueprint for human adult induced pluripotent stem cells, a complementary technology that our lab and many others on campus are working hard to advance.”

You can read the entire press release here.

Reporter Scott Bauer of the Associated press has been ahead of the media pack in reporting on this story.  In reporting on today's news conference in the Wisconsin State Journal, Bauer writes:

Embryonic stem cell researchers stepped away from their microscopes Tuesday to dispute gubernatorial candidate Scott's Walker's statements about their work and oppose the Republican's positions.

Scientists at a news conference held in a lab at embryonic stem cell company Stemina never mentioned Walker's name, but they said they wanted to set the record straight about the promise embryonic stem cells hold and what it would mean for Wisconsin to ban their work.

Walker told the anti-abortion group Pro-Life Wisconsin earlier this year that he supports banning embryonic stem cell research. But since filling out the group's survey, Walker has tried to distance himself from his response, talking instead about how he would direct state money to research that involves adult stem cells and not embryonic.

Walker's opponent Democrat Tom Barrett supports embryonic stem cell research and has tried to make their differences a campaign issue, running a television ad in which the mother of a boy with juvenile diabetes says Walker would stop research that could lead to a cure.

It is no secret that the ad Bauer references features my wife Heidi, who appears in her personal capacity and is not identified with Wisconsin Stem Cell Now.

Bauer continues:

A ban could force researchers to move to other, friendlier states, said Dr. David Gamm, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is using embryonic stem cells in research aimed at curing blindness.

And even though Wisconsin doesn't directly fund embryonic stem cell research, a governor who blocks attempts to further the work or obtain future funding would put Wisconsin at a disadvantage in competition with states like California where it is actively promoted, said Dr. Tim Kamp, director of the university's Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center.

It would also hurt companies like Stemina, which is currently looking to hire two researchers, said Elizabeth Donley, the company's chief executive officer. Stemina opened at the university's research park in 2007, helped in part by a $1 million state grant for biotech companies, Donley said.

The company has created a test, developed with embryonic stem cell research, that helps screen drugs and chemicals for their potential to cause birth defects in pregnant women.

You can read the entire article here.

None of the information released today is particularly new.  Readers of this blog, or anyone who has perused the information on this website or listened to our media interviews, have heard all of this information before.  What is significant, however, is that the scientific community is standing up and saying “no more.”  They have had it with people who try to politicize medical research.

As I said at the start, these dedicated researchers continue to inspire me.  Now more than ever.

October 25th, 2010

How Did Stem Cell Research Become a Wedge Issue?

Reporter Kathleen Foody has an article in today’s Wausau Daily Herald observing that so-called “values issues” have taken a back seat in this year’s political campaigns. I would certainly agree with those who see the support of embryonic stem cell research, and the belief that particular religious faiths should not dictate the scope of

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medical research, as important “values.” However, the organization Wisconsin Stem Cell Now also supports the stem cell research underway in Wisconsin because of its importance to the state’s economic development. Ms. Foody quotes me in the article:

Ed Fallone, president of Wisconsin Stem Cell Now, says embryonic stem cell research shouldn’t be a partisan issue at all. Research in the field is tied to the biotechnology industry’s success, he said. “It’s a debate that has to happen,” Fallone said. “It seems both Walker and Barrett wanted to talk about chasing the ever-dwindling amount of manufacturing jobs. What about new, growing industries?”

You can read the complete article here. I really do see the issue of stem cell research in non-partisan terms. Former Governor Tommy Thompson, a Republican, was a staunch advocate of embryonic stem cell research both as governor and as Secretary of Health and Human Services. At the 2008 Stem Cell Summit in Madison, Thompson claimed to have defended the ethics of embryonic stem cell research while debating with Karl Rove, at a lunch with President Bush. President Bush himself supported the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, albeit for a limited number of stem cell lines. This organization argued for broader funding of the research than permitted under the Bush guidelines. However, there is no denying that researchers at the University of Wisconsin and at the Medical College of Wisconsin were able to continue to perform embryonic stem cell research under President Bush’s policies. Even anti-abortion advocates have come out in favor of embryonic stem cell research. The Washington Post reported on “conservative pressure” to support embryonic stem cell research back in 2001:

President Bush, nearing a decision on whether to fund controversial medical research using cells obtained from human embryos, is under increasing pressure from prominent conservative Republicans who argue it is possible to be both “pro-life” and “pro-stem cell.” . . .

“Stem cell research facilitates life,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), who studied the issue for two years before deciding to aggressively lobby the Bush administration. “Abortion destroys life; this is about saving lives.” . . .

“The most pro-life position would be to help people who suffer from these maladies,” Hatch said in an interview. “That is far more ethical than just abandoning or discarding these embryonic stem cells.” . . .

Hatch is hardly alone. In recent days, letters from the moderate House Republican Main Street Coalition, Sen. Zell Miller, a conservative Georgia Democrat, and 38 House Republicans have streamed into the White House. The growing antiabortion, pro-stem cell contingent includes Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) and Sens. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.). . . .

According to two administration sources, Rove has become a major hurdle in the process, fearful that supporting stem cell experiments will alienate the crucial Catholic vote — just as Bush prepares to visit Pope John Paul II. Moderate Republicans such as Rep. Constance A. Morella counter that the church hierarchy is not the same as rank-and-file Catholics. A survey in her suburban Maryland district, along with national polls conducted by ABC News and the Wall Street Journal, found overwhelming support for the research, even among a majority of Catholics.

The Washington Post article is here.

From my perspective, nothing has changed since 2001. There have been great advances in the science. Adult stem cells are better understood. Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell lines have been created. The first clinical trial in the United States involving embryonic stem cells is underway. But the moral case in favor of supporting all forms of stem cell research remains the same. We cannot let support for medical research become a “wedge issue” that politicians use to divide the public. The board of directors of Wisconsin Stem Cell Now has included proud Republicans, as well as proud Democrats. But we have always been united in our belief that it is a mistake to view stem cell research as a partisan issue.

Support all forms of stem cell research on November 2.

October 22nd, 2010

National Reaction to Walker’s Stem Cell Plan

Wisconsin Stem Cell Now, Inc. (WSCN) contacted researchers and patient advocacy groups across the United States seeking their reaction to statements that Republican Governor candidate Scott Walker has made during his campaign.

In particular, WSCN asked people to comment on the following quote from Scott Walker contained in an October 13, 2010 story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“I’m going to put the money behind adult stem cells – not embryonic,”Buy Windows 8.1 Enterprise Key Code
the Republican told reporters. “The money the state’s involved (with), the money that comes from the federal government, should be focused on the greatest potential for success, and that’s adult stem cell research.”

Some of the responses that we received are presented below. Note: All persons responding to WSCN’s request for comment agreed to make their responses public. Names of affiliated organizations and titles are provided for identification purposes only and do not indicate the organization’s approval of the positions stated. Don Reed’s statement

As the father of a paralyzed son, Roman Reed, who inspired a California law, Assembly Bill 750, the ‘Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act,’ embryonic stem cell research (escr) has a deep personal meaning. “Roman’s Law” provided initial funding for the escr work Geron just took to human trials. I have seen it work, held in my hands a rat which had been paralyzed but which walked again, thanks to embryonic stem cell research. It is astonishing to me that Wisconsin, the state where the research began, would even consider a candidate for governor, Scott Walker (R), who is opposed to the research which may let my son walk again. As I told Wisconsin’s great scientist Jamie Thomson, who began the research, “One day, when my son walks again, I will always believe he took his first steps in Wisconsin.” Sincerely, Don C. Reed California

(citizen-sponsor, Roman Reed Spinal Cord Windows 8.1 Standard Key online Injury Research Act of 1999, co-chair, Californians for Cures, vice-President, Public Policy, Americans for Cures Foundation) Dr. Paul Knoepfler’s statement

Republican candidate for Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, has announced that if elected he will redirect the research of the University of Wisconsin away from embryonic stem cell work and to adult stem cell research instead.
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The implication is that not only state funds but also support from NIH received by UW researchers would, under a Walker administration, be used only for adult stem cell research. Walker's point of view is based on extreme ideology and makes no sense scientifically. It would have a very negative result on the UW and on stem cell research nationally because of the leading national role that UW plays in embryonic stem cell research. At the same time that states such as California, New York, and Maryland are actively providing state funds for embryonic stem cell research, the last thing in the world that Wisconsin needs is a governor taking stem cell research funding away. Such an action would not only hurt the UW, but also Wisconsin more generally and undoubtedly would cost Wisconsin many jobs in the burgeoning biotech sector. Sincerely, Dr. Paul Knoepfler California

(UC Davis School of Medicine, Department of Cell Biology and Human Anatomy) Rayilyn Brown’s statement

I have had Parkinson's disease for 15 years now and see no reason why my health must be held hostage to [Scott Walker’s] false ideas about stem cell research. “Personhood” for cells should not trump my right to recover from a horrid disease. People who lie about the success of adult stem calls for Parkinson's should not be allowed to determine what kind of research will be done. The fates of millions of sick people hang in the balance. Sincerely, Rayilyn Brown Arizona

(Past Director, Arizona Chapter National Parkinson Foundation) Jay Harner's statement

i'm a 31 yr old quadriplegic and am hopeful that escr will lead to a cure for paralysis. please support this ground breaking research…thank you jay harner Pennsylvania

Ronald Jones' statement

I am an uncle to a 24 year old graduate student that was left paralyzed after a diving accident two years ago. I am familiar with stem cell research and know that paralyzed rats have been able to walk after the stem cell treatments. Please help anyway you can to support this research.

Sincerely, Ronald Jones President RHJ Chemical Co.

J. Salkind's statement


Sincerely J SALKIND DMD Arizona

WSCN expresses its sincere appreciation to everyone who submitted comments in response to our request. Thank you.

October 21st, 2010

Walker Wrong on Stem Cell Science

Today's edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper contains a PolitiFact column that fact checks Republican Governor candidate Scott Walker's repeated claim that adult stem cell research is more promising than embryonic stem cell research. The unsurprising conclusion: Walker misrepresents the science:

In supporting his views, Walker said scientists agree the most promising research is focused on adult stem cells, not embryonic stem cells. In supporting that claim, he selectively cites part of a statement by the National Institutes of Health. A broader look at the evidence shows the consensus among scientists is that embryonic stem cells hold great promise in treating diseases, in some ways maybe superior to adult stem cells[,] and are deserving of more research.

You can read the entire PolitiFact article here. Better yet, email the link to your friends and colleagues who keep spreading misinformation about embryonic stem cell research. The reporter cites to sources at the International Society for Stem Cell Research, the National Academies of Science, and the

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Medical College of Wisconsin. Our organization supports all forms of stem cell research. We do

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not oppose research using adult stem cells, and we applaud the medical advances that have been accomplished using adult stem cells. We do, however, dispute any contention that adult stem cell research (inlcuding research using induced pluripotent stem cell lines) has advanced sufficiently to render embryonic stem cell research unnecessary. That is not what the science indicates, and the strong consensus among those who are actually doing this research is that we should not abandon embryonic stem cell research. At this moment in time, and potentially for years to come, embryonic stem cell research still holds greater promise than adult stem cell research in terms of the variety of medical conditions that can be addressed and the degree to which the resulting replacement cells exactly dupicate naturally developed cells. I am personally gratified that the media has focused the attention of the electorate onto the true issues in the debate over stem cell research, and away from the “he said/she said” focus of the

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original media coverage. I must admit that I continue to be mystified as to how the PolitiFact column decided to rate the “Fallone Ad” (as it seems destined to be named) as “False” on the grounds that it was only half true. Isn't there a rating of “Half True?” But ultimately, it is time to leave those arguments behind and focus on what is truly important: spreading the truth about the science of stem cell research, so that the voters can make an informed decision in November.

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