Thursday Edition: The Stem Cell Question

The Michael J. Fox commercial — encouraging Missouri voters to support stem-cell research — raises the debate over federal funding for embryonic stem cells late in this election cycle. Here is a primer I wrote for Morning Meeting in July to help you cover the issue of stem cells.

I do not know of a commercial that has gotten more free press/air time since the Daisy Girl commercial that the Lyndon Johnson campaign produced in 1964.

NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, Cards pitcher Jeff Suppan, and actors Jim Caviezel and Patricia Heaton all joined together to rebut the Michael J. Fox ad. (See the counter ad here. It had more than a quarter-of-a-million views on YouTube before it even aired on TV.)

The stem-cell issue seems to draw this kind of controversial advertising to the surface. Christopher Reeve also made a direct appeal for stem cell support in 2004. A commercial featuring Reeve even aired after his death in support of California’s Proposition 71.

Dustin Hoffman also has been an advocate of stem-cell research.

Parkinson’s Background

The National Parkinson Foundation says [Word Document]:

Parkinson disease affects both men and women in almost equal numbers. It holds no social, ethnic, economic or geographic boundaries. It is estimated that 4 to 6 million people around the world suffer from the condition. In the United States, 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, adding to the 1.5 million Americans who currently have Parkinson disease. While the condition usually develops after age 60, approximately 15 percent of those diagnosed are under 50. Parkinson disease is estimated to cost the nation an excess of $6 billion annually, including treatment, social security payments and lost income from inability to work, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Beyond politics, this is an opportunity to explore the difficulties of living with this awful disease. Click here to find a resource near you to help develop this story.

While there has been a lot of reason to believe stem-cell therapy offers hope to people suffering from Parkinson’s, there have been some setbacks, too. The Globe and Mail in Toronto reported a recent experiment that involved curing rats of a Parkinson’s-like disease, but then the rats started growing brain tumors.

What does the National Institutes of Health say about the possibilities of curing Parkinson’s with embryonic stem-cell therapy? In the NIH’s “Stem Cell Basics,” the sidebar “Stem Cells for the Future Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease” explains:

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a very common neurodegenerative disorder that affects more than 2 percent of the population over 65 years of age. PD is caused by a progressive degeneration and loss of dopamine (DA)-producing neurons, which leads to tremor, rigidity, and hypokinesia (abnormally decreased mobility). It is thought that PD may be the first disease to be amenable to treatment using stem cell transplantation. Factors that support this notion include the knowledge of the specific cell type (DA neurons) needed to relieve the symptoms of the disease. In addition, several laboratories have been successful in developing methods to induce embryonic stem cells to differentiate into cells with many of the functions of DA neurons.

In a recent study, scientists directed mouse embryonic stem cells to differentiate into DA neurons by introducing the gene Nurr1. When transplanted into the brains of a rat model of PD, these stem cell-derived DA neurons reinnervated the brains of the rat Parkinson model, released dopamine and improved motor function.

Regarding human stem-cell therapy, scientists are developing a number of strategies for producing dopamine neurons from human stem cells in the laboratory for transplantation into humans with Parkinson’s disease. The successful generation of an unlimited supply of dopamine neurons could make neurotransplantation widely available for Parkinson’s patients at some point in the future.

Celebrities Play Politics

Hollywood stars like Michael J. Fox have played a big part in politics for a long time.

Here is a Web site that claims to have compiled and sorted celebrity political contributions from 1978 to now. It is an amazing collection. Some celebrities are already lining up to support candidates for 2008.

Click here to see a 1960 commercial from Harry Belafonte supporting JFK. Of course, actor Ronald Reagan did TV spots for Barry Goldwater in 1964. Pearl Bailey appeared on TV for Gerald Ford in 1976. In 2004, a flood of anti-Bush movies were released.

Charlton Heston was the head of the National Rifle Association. Mike Farrell opposed the Iraq war.

Sometimes Hollywood stars lend their voices to annoying political phone calls.

Musicians have been involved in politics in a big way in recent years, too.

Top-Earning Dead Celebrities

Elvis, Charles Schulz and John Lennon are on the Forbes list but are not No. 1. Kurt Cobain is. See the list here.

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Editor’s Note: Al’s Morning Meeting is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. The column is fact-checked, but depends upon the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited. Errors and inaccuracies found will be corrected.

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