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Now that the election is over and a Democrat will be taking office, maybe we can get back to where we were when Clinton was in office. During the Clinton years, stem cell research advanced by leaps and bounds. Researchers were on the verge of developing stem cell lines for the treatment of diabetes, parkinson’s and advances in spinal cord injury. During the Bush administration’s hysterical ban on embryonic stem cells, beginning in 2001 and at least until Barack Obama takes office, the development of new stem cell lines was essentially illegal.

What Bush did do inadvertently was to push stem cell research in new areas. Much of the research was done overseas in collaboration with their American counterparts. Researchers in the US were forced to develop methods to encourage their existing stem cells to become pluripotential again for differentiation into different cells. They also were able to find and exploit adult stem cells from the tissues and blood of adults. After a very slow start, the stem cell community is ripe for the development of multiple lines that have the potential to treat and/or cure many diseases. All they need is the support that Obama will have the authority to give.

Interestingly enough, both McCain and Obama support stem cell research. During the last 3 years they both supported the same four pieces of legislation regarding stem cell research, including embryonic stem cells. Their main area of disagreement was in the use of embryos created for use in fertility clinics. The excess embryos are typically destroyed. Obama supports their use while McCain did not. Both supported the ban on the use of embryos created for the sole purpose of research. Now that Obama is president, hopefully he can get legislation passed that allows the use of those excess embryos from fertility clinics for stem cell research.

I have a particularly strong personal interest in this area. Type 1 diabetes runs in my family. My father died of complications related to his diabetes after suffering a heart attack and an amputation of his lower leg due to poor circulation. He had diabetes for more than 50 years. When you think about, he actually did quite well considering the fact that most of the advances and understanding of diabetes occurred in the last twenty years. Unfortunately, diabetes is genetic. My daughter and I are also type 1 diabetics. My hope is that even if there is no “cure” during my lifetime, there will be for my daughter.

While it may seem initially that my motivation is selfish (and I admit that I am looking at this from a personal perspective also), the statistics are overwhelming and crying for a cure. The current estimates(2008) state that there are currently 21 million Americans with diabetes and 54 million with pre-diabetes. Deaths due to diabetes and it’s complications are 224,000 per year. If the current trend continues, a person born in the year 2000 has a one in three chance of developing diabetes in their lifetime. For minorities, that lifetime chance of developing diabetes is a staggering one out of two!

The economic costs related to diabetes should place it on everyone’s radar for control and cure. A paper published by the American Diabetes Association entitled Economic Costs of Diabetes in The U.S in 2007, estimates that in 2007 there were 17.5 million diagnosed diabetics and another 6.6 million who were undiagnosed. Combined, that represents 8% of the total US population. For the diagnosed diabetics, the ADA calculates the “economic burden of diabetes caused by increased health resource use” to be $174 Billion per year. The increasing prevalence of diabetes means increasing expenditures for years to come.

From a purely fiscal point of view, it would make sense to prevent or cure a disease that has such a high cost to society. This can be accomplished in many ways. Stem cell research can, and will, find a cure for Type 1 diabetes eventually. But Type 1 diabetes represents only a small percentage of the total diabetic population. The epidemic of obesity, a major contributor to the development of Type 11 diabetes, has to be controlled as well.

As our new president takes office during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the promise of universal healthcare will still be on many Americans minds as they are laid off, look for work or try to keep their current employment, even though it may offer no healthcare benefits. The enormous cost of implementing universal healthcare begs for cost containment, more efficient use of tax payer dollars, and focusing on disease prevention as a way to decrease our expenditures for chronic diseases. What a perfect opportunity for a progressive president to spend a few billion dollars in support of embryonic stem cell research that will yield an economic benefit worth many times it’s cost.

For a president who will make history just by having been elected, imagine the footnote that can be added to his already monumental achievement by stating that he was responsible for the first true cure of a costly chronic disease simply by his support of embryonic stem cell research. With the legislation currently in place, sure seems like a short step in the right direction.

Doc B

My opinion is free.
Advice is worth exactly what you pay for it.

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