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Science Fiction

From the Publisher of Chicago Life


Patients with life-threatening diseases and their families know the anguish of waiting for medical science to discover cures in time to make a difference in their lives. Unfortunately, many patients with devastating illnesses such as Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and cancer are not only faced with medical insurance crises due to inequities in our country's health care system. Patients also have lost valuable time waiting for our president to lift his ban on federal funding of stem cell research. Many families have felt the pain and frustration of waiting for Bush to see the light. As Ronald Reagan's son, Ron, recently told Larry King, Bush's "playing politics with stem cell research is shameful." According to The New York Times, Nancy Reagan called for stem cell research "to tear down every wall today that keeps us from finding the cures of tomorrow."

Many scientists feel that stem cell research may hold the promise of successful treatments for life-threatening diseases. But without federal dollars, those scientists have had to work without adequate resources. Will the U.S. have the scientists and the breakthroughs to prevent or cure these diseases, or will patients have to go to the U.K. or Israel to get treatment while this administration concentrates on serving the needs of the petroleum industry?

Unfortunately, our country is losing our pre-eminence in science and technology. President Bush's ill-informed decision to prevent federal funding of institutions that participate in stem cell research using human embryonic cells has not only delayed scientific progress in fighting serious illnesses that cause untold suffering-affecting 100 million Americans-but also our nation has also fallen behind in biological and technological research. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of embryos continue to be destroyed in fertility centers throughout our nation. Does the Bush administration label vitro fertilization immoral? Where is the moral consistency?

Research in stem cells has been progressing in countries such as Israel and the U.K. Unfortunately, most of the stem cell lines they have developed are not available to U.S. scientists.

According to Chemical & Engineering News, at a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, increased future funding for research and development will go primarily to "homeland security projects, defense development programs, and the National Aeronautics & Space Administration."

Senator Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) said in response to these reports that "the Administration is abdicating its responsibility to provide scientists with the funding that cutting-edge research demands." He added, "America's reputation as a home for cutting-edge science is being diminished."

In fact, the AAAS forum reported that foreign graduate student applications are falling. According to Chemical & Engineering News, the numbers of Ph.D. graduates in the U.S. are flat, while the numbers of Ph.D.s in China have increased 54-fold in the last decade.

"the Administration is abdicating its responsibility to provide scientists with the funding that cutting-edge research demands."
We now know cancer is not one disease. It takes over 100 different forms and requires complex research to combat each different disease. Since the completion of the mapping of the human genome, we are able to understand the molecular pathways that facilitate how diseases like cancer spread. This is the time to double the budgets for research and development of molecular-targeted drugs. It is also time to restructure the way cancer research is done in our country.

Clifton Leaf in his comprehensive feature, "Why We're Losing the War on Cancer" in Fortune magazine, pointed out the weaknesses in the search for a cure: redundant research funded by multiple federal sources, the legal and proprietary competitive pharmaceutical companies that refuse to work in concert with manufacturers of other drugs to attack cancer metastasis by disrupting molecular signals in a cancer cell, poor mouse models, ineffective trials adhering to FDA rules that force trials to test on patients that are too sick to benefit from the drugs, and bureaucratic restrictions that don't reward companies for developing and testing investigative compounds, among others. And only a fraction of proposed grants get funded. Leaf wrote about a system that focuses on drugs that cause "tumor regression," yet rarely improves a patient's chance of survival beyond a few months.

More than 570,000 Americans will die of cancer this year. One out of every two men and one in every three women will get cancer in their lifetimes. Since President Richard Nixon declared his War On Cancer in 1971, the percentage of Americans who die of cancer is nearly the same as it was in 1971. According to two leading Chicago physicians-Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., and Quentin D. Young, M.D.-in an Environment News Service paper, if the U.S. put a greater emphasis on prevention, we could reduce these sobering statistics and the suffering that cancer brings with it. They claim that the American Cancer Society's relationship to its donors, including numerous petrochemical and oil companies like British Petroleum, DuPont and Pennzoil-and their recent PR companies' ties to the tobacco industry-as inherent conflicts in researching the causes of cancer.

To illustrate their point, Dr. Epstein and Dr. Young say that the American Cancer Society has "supported the automobile industry in refusing to endorse the Clean Air Act. It has joined the Chlorine Institute in defending the continued manufacture of chlorinated carcinogenic pesticides. And it has supported the cosmetic industry in failing to warn women of risks of breast and other cancers from permanent black hair dyes and of risks of ovarian cancer from sanitary dusting with talc."

The Bush administration has been called to task for support of political cronyism over public welfare by many of its harshest critics-scientists.

According to The New York Times last February, 60 influential scientists-including 20 Nobel laureates-issued a paper claiming that the Bush administration had distorted scientific fact while carrying out policies on biomedical health, nuclear weapons and the environment. The Union of Concerned Scientists also published a report accusing the administration of "suppressing its own scientists' reports, stacking advisory committees with unqualified political appointees, disbanding government panels that provide unwanted advice and refusing to seek any independent scientific expertise in some cases." They wrote that they believed the administration had "misrepresented scientific knowledge and misled the public about the implications of its policies." Dr. Kurt Gottfried, emeritus professor of physics at Cornell University, said the administration had "engaged in practices that are in conflict with the spirit of science and the scientific method."

Too much precious time has been lost in Bush's attempt to prevent development of stem cell lines. He claimed there were 60. He was wrong. There are only nineteen possible lines-and those are contaminated with mouse feeder cells.

According to The New York Times, on June 21 Senator John Kerry, backed by the endorsement of 48 Nobel laureates, accused the Bush administration of letting "ideology trump science." Kerry promised to lift the ban on stem cell research if he is elected in November. It is time to regain our lead in scientific research-including cancer prevention and stem cell research. We cannot afford to wait any longer.

Published: August 01, 2004
Issue: Fall 2004