Stem Cells Will Generate Results, Maybe Cures

El Vaquero Staff Writer

“Necessity is the mother of invention” is a generally accepted maxim, but not when it has to do with spending $3 billion to fund it.

This is the case with the passage of Prop 71 and the naysayers who still find spending so much money on stem cell research hard to swallow, especially since they are fearful that biotech companies will vie for the money, spend it and not produce an equitable return.

In theory, stem cells housed within the body can construct and reconstruct human tissue of any kind.

Hopefully, they can do the same for physiological damage caused by diseases like HIV/AIDS, Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, heart disease, diabetes and various bone-wasting diseases.

Suppose a person has been infected by a group of viruses that end up feeding on cells in the immune system — vital in fighting off sickness and disease — and then spread. Stem cells would repair these tainted cells and rebuild dead ones, making it more feasible for someone with HIV to fight off the infection.

Scientist Hans Kierstead recently affirmed their potential to do so in working with laboratory mice at the University of California’s Reeve-Irvine Research Center. Stem cells were manipulated into creating oligodendrocytes (purified brain cells), which would travel to a mouse’s injured spinal cord and restore the area to its former, healthy state.

These were embryonic stem cells, which start off as egg cells in fertility clinics. After fertilization, an individual egg cell divides and develops into a human embryo. Five days later, it has become a stem cell-filled ball called a blastocyst that is destroyed when its contents are extracted for research.

Whether or not the measure will pay off is the three billion-dollar question.

Paying off the bond measure “would balloon the total cost to $6 billion including interest, or an average of $200 million per year from the state’s General Fund [for 30 years] . atop an overall debt of $11 billion,” said the Sacramento Business Journal.

But another assesment by Analysis Group, Inc., a national economic and financial research group, predicted that 5,000 to 22,000 new jobs will be created as biotech companies set up shop in California to vie for the bond money. Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology is currently doing just that.

New tax revenue would follow, amounting to $70 million within the first five years alone, Stanford University estimates.

So even if biotech firms pretend to be doing something for the next few years, money will be made.

Furthermore, much can be learned from this research even it fails to cure a single person. A big problem with stem cells, for instance, is that they repair certain tissue but not others, despite being coaxed with chemicals. However, studying the development of an organism, as these cells generate others, may offer invaluable information, specifically, where, when, why and how it all goes wrong.

In pursuing such research “we come across answers we weren’t looking for,” said GCC Biology Division Chair Ronald Harlan.

“We didn’t know how nerve cells worked until we spent money researching squids. When they opened one up, the largest nerve cells were found and electrodes were used to see how they work. The same goes for studying how snake venom works. That’s how they discovered botox. It’s a basic part of doing research.spending money to understand something, you gain knowledge.”

Treatments developed for Parkinson’s disease and sickle cell anemia by studying stem cells are proof of that.

The prospect of not finding a cure for diseases is the only risky part of moving forward with Proposition 71, but is worth it if something does turn up. Not doing anything, however, could prove to be fatal.