HANOVER, NH -- Hillary Clinton said today that science, not narrow ideology, should drive our national research agenda, and pledged to lift the ban on ethical embryonic stem cell research. At a conversation at Dartmouth College in Hanover, Clinton was joined by two New Hampshire families with personal experiences with illnesses and disabilities that could potentially be cured or helped by stem cell research, as well as the Associate Chief of Neurology at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
Clinton discussed the potential of stem cell research to both save lives and keep the United States on the cutting-edge of scientific advancement. She argued that ideology should never get in the way of scientific progress.
"It's time to unlock the potential of stem cell research and put an end to the backwards and restrictive policies of this administration," Clinton said. "Our scientists have been set back years in the race for life-saving cures because they've been held back by a narrow ideology that rejects sound science. As President, I will lift the ban on ethical embryonic stem cell research and allow our scientists to pursue treatments that could help millions of Americans."
Over 100 million Americans could benefit from the advancements that come from stem cell research. Although a majority of Americans support stem cell research, President Bush has placed severe restrictions on funding. Last year, the President vetoed the bipartisan Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act that overwhelmingly passed Congress, and he has vowed to veto a new version of the bill passed earlier this month with broad support.
Twenty-three year old Laura Clark of Antrim, and her mother Kathleen, joined Senator Clinton today. Laura was a young nursing student at the University of New Hampshire when she was involved in a car accident that left her with a severe spinal cord injury. Laura said that she finds the current restrictions on research to be "extremely frustrating."
Alex Walter, 10, of Londonderry, was accompanied to the event by his parents Steve and Kathy, and his sister Leah. Alex has had Type 1 Diabetes since he was four.
"Alex is a strong kid but this is hard for anyone to deal with," said his dad Steve Walter, who is a registered Republican. "We test his blood 10 times a day, and of course, there are insulin injections. I worry about the next 40 or 50 years of his life. I want to see a cure for my son and I think stem cell research might lead us there. I'm angry that under this Administration we have not been able to move forward."
The scientific and medical communities have lobbied for funding to pursue research on both adult and embryonic stem cells. Researchers estimate that within five years we could make major strides towards curing Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury, strokes and heart attacks, diabetes, ALS, and Huntington's disease.
Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, a professor of neurology at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center who treats ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) patients, strongly supports expanded funding. "There is no cure for Lou Gehrig's Disease and only one medication that can treat it," said Cohen. "It's discouraging that there is such limited funding from the National Institutes of Health. It's unfortunate that we haven't been able to progress faster -- there are so many potential treatment opportunities for ALS that can result from stem cell research."
As a long-time advocate of healthcare and scientific research, Senator Clinton is committed to seeing that stem cell research moves forward. She voted in favor of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, and has also worked to expand the budget of the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Gurdon’s technique was to extract the cell nucleus, containing the frog’s DNA, from a mature intestinal cell and inject the nucleus into a frog egg whose own nucleus had been removed. The egg was evidently able to reprogram the introduced nucleus and direct its genes to switch from the duties of an intestinal cell to those appropriate to a developing egg.
But how did the egg cell body accomplish this reprogramming feat? The answer had to wait 44 years, while molecular biologists gained a more intimate understanding of genes and the agents that control them.
Working with mice, Dr. Yamanaka discovered in 2006 that the reprogramming can be accomplished by just four specific gene control agents in the egg. The agents, known to biologists as transcription factors, are proteins made by master genes to regulate other genes. By injecting the four agents into an adult cell, Dr. Yamanaka showed that he could walk the cell back to its primitive, or stem cell, form.
Stem cells generated by this method, known as induced pluripotent cells, or iPS cells, could then be made to mature into any type of adult cell in the body, a finding with obvious potential for medical benefits.
Biologists hope the technique will enable replacement tissues to be generated from a patient’s own cells for use against a wide variety of degenerative diseases. For the moment, that remains a distant prospect. But the cells have already proved useful in studying the genesis of disease. Cells generated from a patient are driven to form the tissue that is diseased, enabling biologists in some cases to track the steps by which the disease is developed.
Dr. Gurdon’s early academic career did not hint at what the future might hold. “I believe Gurdon has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous,” his high school biology teacher wrote. “If he can’t learn simple biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part and of those who would have to teach him.”
At , a more positive mentor encouraged him to try transplanting the nucleus of adult cells into frog eggs. The idea was to see if the genome — the hereditary information — stayed unchanged during development or underwent irreversible changes. In producing living tadpoles from the nucleus of adult frog cells, Dr. Gurdon showed that the genome of both egg and adult cells remained essentially unchanged.
But the possibility that animals, including humans, could be cloned did not seriously impinge on the public imagination until his work was reproduced in mammals with the generation of Dolly, the cloned sheep, in 1997. The following year saw generation of the first human embryonic stem cells, which are derived from the early human embryo. Such cells are called pluripotent because they can develop into any of the mature tissues of the body.
The two developments led to the concept of therapeutic cloning — take a patient’s skin cell, say, insert it into an unfertilized human egg so as to reprogram it back to pluripotent state, and then develop embryonic stem cells for conversion into the tissue or organ that the patient needed to have replaced. Since the new tissue would carry the patient’s own genome, there should be no problem of immune rejection.
But human eggs are not so easily obtained. Of course, the reprogramming might be accomplished without human eggs if only the relevant factors in the egg could be isolated. But that seemed a distant prospect until Dr. Yamanaka’s discovery that 24 transcription factors, later whittled down to four, could reprogram a nucleus when introduced into cells on the back of a virus.
Dr. George Daley, a stem cell researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston, praised the creativity of Dr. Yamanaka’s experiment. At the time, he and others were trying to reprogram cells by adding one gene at a time. The idea of inserting 24 genes all at once “is the kind of experiment that would have been laughed out of the room” in a grant committee meeting, he said.
Rudolf Jaenisch, a biologist at the Whitehead Institute in , was another who considered that Dr. Yamanaka’s surprising experiment was correct, despite widespread doubts. “I believed it immediately because I knew him to be very careful and there was a logic to it,” he said.
Dr. Gurdon and Dr. Yamanaka will receive a handsome cash prize, but one reduced by 20 percent from previous years. The Nobel Foundation announced in June that its investments had not kept pace with expenses over the past decade, and that the prize money would be reduced from 10 million to 8 million Swedish krona. Still, at today’s exchange rate, even this is worth $1.2 million.
In a brief interview today, Dr. Yamanaka, who was born in 1962 in Higashiosaka, Japan, said that he had trained as surgeon but “gave it up because I learned I was not talented.” Having seen how little the best surgeons could do to help some patients, he decided to go into basic research and did postdoctoral training at the Gladstone Institutes in .
In an interview, Dr. Gurdon said he had recovered from the setback of his biology teacher’s report with the help of his family and an uncle who studied snails. Asked how he felt about having to wait 50 years for his prize, he said, “I am lucky to be still alive.”Continue reading the main story