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Reagan and Hollywood add weight to stem cell debate

10 May 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 257

President Bush is facing mounting pressure to review his three-year old policy on human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research. At a gala dinner held on Saturday night for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), Nancy Reagan, wife of the former US President Ronald Reagan, made a passionate speech imploring the president to change his policy. Ronald Reagan has Alzheimer's disease, one of many degenerative conditions that could eventually be treated using new therapies developed through research on ES cells.

On 9 August 2001, President Bush announced that ES cell research supported by federal funds could only take place on stem cell lines that were already in existence. Research that would cause further destruction of embryos would not be permitted. The NIH identified 78 existing ES cell lines in the world at the time. But, since then, US researchers have complained that the ES cell lines available for them are not as good as those produced later, in particular those created without the use of mouse 'feeder' cells. In March this year, the NIH conceded that 'only a fraction' of the 78 lines it identified are actually available, estimating that in the 'best case scenario', only 23 cell lines can be used by federally-funded scientists.

Nancy Reagan, who was previously known for her supporting stance on ES cell research, said that Alzheimer's had taken her husband 'to a distant place where I can no longer reach him and share our 52 years'. She added: 'science has presented us with a hope called stem cell research, which may provide our scientists with many answers that for so long been beyond our grasp'. 'I just don't see how we can turn our backs on this', she said.

A number of Hollywood celebrities also added their voices in support of ES cell research. Actors Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart read letters of support for Nancy Reagan from other former presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Dustin Hoffman, Michael J Fox, James Taylor and Larry King were also among the many celebrities attending the fundraising gala event, organised to raise money for the JDRF. The gala raised $2 million, part of a hoped for total of $20 million that the Foundation is donating to help promote ES cell research. Michael J Fox also runs a Parkinson's disease foundation, which has already contributed $10 million.

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22 May 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
Nancy Reagan, former first lady of the US, has reiterated her calls for federal legislation supporting embryonic stem (ES) cell research. Earlier this month, she published a personal letter that she had written to Senator Orrin Hatch, saying that she wants to see debate and a...
20 June 2005 - by BioNews 
Senators in the US will start to debate a bill on the issue of human embryonic stem (ES) cell research next month. A bipartisan group of senators is campaigning to persuade President Bush to relax his policy on the research. Bush, who opposes any research that would involve the destruction...
1 November 2004 - by BioNews 
In the final run-up to the US presidential election on 2 November, both candidates have been heavily campaigning, including on the issue of embryonic stem (ES) cell research. Democratic candidate Senator John Kerry promises to abandon the restrictions placed on ES cell research by Bush in 2001. Bush's policy limits...
11 October 2004 - by BioNews 
John Kerry, the US Democratic presidential candidate, has teamed up with Michael J Fox, the actor, to criticise President Bush's policy on embryonic stem (ES) cell research. The policy, which has been in place since 9 August 2001, restricts federally-funded researchers to working on ES cell lines already created by...
4 October 2004 - by BioNews 
A team of high-profile scientists, including 10 Nobel prize winners and two former presidential advisers, has set up a new group to put pressure on President Bush about his science policies. The group, called Scientists and Engineers for Change (SEC), is touring ten 'campaign battleground states', accusing the president of...
29 April 2004 - by BioNews 
A letter signed by 206 cross-party members of the US House of Representatives has been sent to President Bush, asking him to change his policy on embryonic stem (ES) cell research. On 9 August 2001, the President issued an executive order limiting the availability of federal funds for ES cell...
3 March 2004 - by BioNews 
Following last week's news that US president George W Bush has 'reshuffled' the council that advises him on cloning and other issues in biomedical research, more bad news has emerged for embryonic stem (ES) cell research in the US. A new document compiled by the US National Institutes of Health...
7 October 2002 - by BioNews 
Nancy Reagan, former first lady of the US, has been lobbying for a change in President Bush's policy on research into human embryo stem cells. The 81-year-old wife of former president Ronald Reagan has been 'obliquely but persistently campaigning' for federal funding of embryo stem cell research, according to...
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