Stem Cell Research's Wide Divide

KEY WEST, July 5 - Dave Price poses with two of Key West's finest including Kurt Stephens, center, winner of this year's first "Great American Vacation" getaway contest.
Thirteen-year-old Svati Narula is one of the two million Americans with type-1, or juvenile, diabetes, reports The Early Show's Dr. Emily Senay.

"I look like a normal person," Narula said. "I look like I lead a normal life, but people don't realize that it's a lot harder than it looks."

Svati's mother Elna Narula says juvenile diabetes is a full-time job for kids.

"I think one of the hardest things about having diabetes, any chronic illness, especially type-1 — juvenile diabetes for kids — they never have a day off," Elna said.

Elna wants to spare her daughter from complications of the disease--nerve and kidney damage, even blindness.

"Those things happen," Elna said. "I've seen it. I've been a nurse for over 22 years and it happens."

The Narulas' hope for a cure, a cure they believe may one day come from stem cell research--a technique using human embryos to obtain embryonic stem cells, cells many scientists say could become replacement tissue to treat diseases like diabetes. But in the process the embryos are destroyed. And that is precisely what politicians are debating in Washington: Should the government expand funding for this research on human embryos?

"The deliberate destruction of unique living self-integrated human persons is not some incidental tangent of embryonic stem cell research, it is the essence of the experiment: kill some in hopes of saving others," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said.

Despite vocal opposition like that from Delay, a bill that would greatly expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research recently passed in the House of Representatives with the support from other republicans like Randy Cunningham.

"I am for life and the quality of life but I don't want another six-year-old to die. You cannot look a child in the eye when the only chance they have to live is this."

But opponents like Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) intend to the fight the bill.

"We're putting one set of human lives above another set of human lives, and the reason we do so is because the one set that we're favoring here, that the House passed, can speak and can vote and the others can't," Santorum said.

"The consequence of the current federal policy is not to prevent this work from being done," said Doug Melton of Harvard University's Stem Cell Institute. "It's just a guarantee it'll take ten times longer."

Melton wants to see stem cell research go forward, both for professional AND personal reasons.

"I have two roles: one is as a scientist working on a cure for diabetes, but then like millions of parents, I unfortunately have two children who suffer from the disease," Melton said. "Like any parent, I'd like to do anything I can to try to find a cure."

"It's very frustrating to have a federal policy which says this work can be done, but only sort of with one hand tied behind your back — with shackles," Melton said. "Either we should do it or we shouldn't"

Right now Melton conducts research with both private and federal funds. But government restrictions on how those federal dollars are spent create real obstacles for him and his colleagues.

The division is so sharp that here at Harvard's stem cell lab scientists have to separate all their equipment. In this lab, all the supplies, even the felt tip pens, are paid for using federal money only. But down the hall is a lab, where all the equipment the scientists use is paid for only with private money.