Allow universities to expand efforts to find cures
Letter to the Editor in the Kalamazoo Gazette by Mary Sue Coleman, John M. Dunn, Jay Noren and Lou Anna K. Simon, October 29, 2008
In a University of California laboratory, highly regarded scientist Lawrence Goldstein is one of many researchers in that state seeking a better understanding of debilitating disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and Lou Gehrig's disease.
Goldstein also is keeping an eye on Michigan.
Embryonic stem cells factor into Goldstein’s research. Whether Michigan voters decide on Nov. 4 to loosen our state's restrictions on embryonic stem–cell research is of profound interest to Goldstein, who predicts a fallout of top scientists from our universities if their hands continue to be tied by the most prohibitive stem–cell law in the country.
"And then I’m going to do my damnedest to recruit them to California," he promised, during a visit to Ann Arbor last month.
Our state cannot afford to lose more talented citizens. And we cannot risk shuttering university laboratories that contribute vital research aimed at unlocking the mysteries of debilitating diseases that affect thousands of Michigan families.
Michigan voters will be asked next month to expand embryonic stem–cell research in our state. We encourage all voters to educate themselves about this research and its potential.
As university presidents, we represent students, faculty, alumni and friends with various and differing points of view on public policy issues. The stem–cell ballot initiative surely is one of those issues. But as individual presidents we consider this ballot initiative deserving of our public reflections.
We understand the sensitivities that surround the use of stem cells derived from human embryos. Thousands of embryos are routinely destroyed by fertility clinics and will never be used for fertility treatments. There are hundreds of thousands of such unused embryos in clinics throughout the United States.
Any embryos used for stem–cell research in our state would be those discarded by clinics with the full consent of donors. We equate this decision by donors with that of parents who make the difficult yet life–saving decision to donate the organs of a dying child. Providing embryos for stem–cell research may well improve or save countless human lives.
Public research universities such as ours exist to serve society, and no research is more important than that which improves the health and well–being of our society. Our doctors and scientists believe that to make the most progress against disease, we must fight with all the weapons at our disposal, including both adult and embryonic stem cells.
Adult stem cells already are proving promising in leading to medical therapies, but they also pose limitations in terms of their viability and potential. Embryonic stem cells, however, hold far greater potential because of their exceptional flexibility.
The science of human embryonic stem cells is only a decade old. Research, particularly when it involves human health, is slow and arduous by design, because safety and ethics are paramount. When scientists at the University of Michigan told the world in 1952 that the polio vaccine was "safe, effective and potent," their historic pronouncement captured the mission of medical research.
In the 20th century, Michigan’s research universities contributed to human health by proving the efficacy of the polio vaccine, developing the most effective anti-cancer drug in the form of cisplatin, and synthesizing AZT, which would become one of the first truly effective drugs in treating HIV/AIDS.
In these early days of the 21st century, we are prepared to take the next great step. Embryonic stem–cell research will further establish our state as one focused on a new economy that embraces bioscience, innovation and technology. It will provide scientists in our state with one more tool — and one with great promise — to help us control and cure such diseases as juvenile diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and cancer.
With greater research into embryonic stem cells, we believe our universities can expand the development of therapies and cures, and extend our commitment to the well–being of people in Michigan and beyond.
Mary Sue Coleman is president of the University of Michigan. John M. Dunn is president of Western Michigan University. Jay Noren is president of Wayne State University. Lou Anna K. Simon is president of Michigan State University.