Stars Back Stem Cell Research

Actress Hilary Swank arrives at the Paramount Pictures premiere of "Freedom Writer" at the Mann Village Theatre on January 4, 2007 in Westwood, California.
Are some diseases preferable to their cures?

That was the argument posed Thursday on Capitol Hill by a Lutheran minister testifying against increased federal funding of stem cell research using discarded human embryos.

"If a cure for diabetes and a host of other diseases requires the production and destruction of human embryos, then I beg you to consider the possibility that some diseases are better than their cures," said the Rev. Russell Salzman of Kansas City, who has diabetes.

Another diabetic, actress Mary Tyler Moore, who is chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, was among the many who made the trip to Washington to make the case for the other side.

"Stem cell research offers an enormous amount of hope," said Moore, in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services and Education subcommittee. "I believe stem cell research should be pursued vigorously and is appropriate for federal funding."

The Clinton Administration last month authorized research on stem cells from frozen human embryos originally conceived in fertility laboratories but later slated to be discarded as surplus or otherwise unwanted.

It is illegal now to use federal funds for research using stem cells from these embryos, but National Institutes of Health guidelines do provide a loophole of sorts. Scientists whose work is federally-funded are allowed to use the cells if they have been provided to them by privately-funded researchers.

Moore says stem cell research has already produced an experimental technique in which insulin-producing cells are introduced into the body and "produce sufficent insulin and almost perfect blood sugar control.

"Scientists believe that one day, stem cells will develop into any form of tissue or organ," Moore told the committee.

More star power in favor of stem cell research funding came in a written statement sent to the Senate by paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve, whose foundation funds spinal cord research, and testimony from actor Michael J. Fox.

Fox, who is battling Parkinson's disease, said stem cell research has the potential to save millions of lives. In his testimony, Fox called on Congress to stop debating the issue because "further delay could come at a high price."

Human embryos are not the only source of stem cells, which are viewed with hope by medical researchers because stem cells have yet to take the form of any particular type of cell in the body and theoretically could be used to form specific cells that are needed.

Stem cells are also present in adults, although in smaller quantities, and in the umbilical cords of newborn babies, which some scientists believe should be collected and stored for later use. Research using stem cells from umbilical cords is already being done and some doctors argue that umbilical cords may provide a better outcome for some medical procedures.

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