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Stem Cell Research Will Help the Suffering and the Economy

Guest Essayist
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
July 19, 2006

There is an international race under way to unlock the potential of stem cell science. This competition has enormous implications for New York's research community, including the University of Rochester, and the biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies that rely on the innovation that emerges from the state's universities.

It would be difficult to overstate the important role that stem cell science is likely to play in the future of biomedical research. Stem cell research touches upon several aspects of medical research and has the potential to prevent, treat or cure illnesses that today affect as many as 100 million Americans. At the UR Medical Center there are 18 laboratories engaged in embryonic and adult stem cell research, and our scientists are making significant contributions to the field, including research that may ultimately lead to new therapies for spinal cord injury, Parkinson's, cancer and heart disease.

Many states – and approximately 20 countries – have recognized the scientific importance and commercial potential of stem cell science and have established funds to support this research. The most prominent example is California, where voters approved a 10-year, $3 billion stem cell research fund in 2004. Illinois, New Jersey, and Connecticut have recently made significant commitments. New York's research universities are faced with the prospect of falling behind in this important field unless the state acts quickly to level the playing field.

That is why earlier this week, a coalition led by the presidents or chancellors of 17 New York universities issued a report entitled, "New York and Stem Cell Science: A Scientific, Policy, and Economic Analysis." This report details the importance of stem cell science to the state's research community and economy and calls upon lawmakers in Albany to establish a state fund to support this research.

While New York's research universities are widely acknowledged to possess the scientific talent that would enable the state to be a major international player in the field of stem cell research, a real concern is that our leading research scientists will be recruited away to institutions in other states or countries, where they would have access to more resources to pursue their research. A decline in the fortunes of New York's biomedical research community would have significant economic consequences for the entire state. New York's universities, teaching hospitals and research laboratories contribute significantly to the state's economy through employment, through spending, and through the development of innovative products and concepts for the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. The academic medical community contributes an estimated $30 billion per year to the state's economy and generates more than 459,000 jobs.

Here in Rochester, the region's biotechnology and high-tech commercial sectors depend significantly upon the research that is conducted at the University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology. There are strongly held moral beliefs on both sides of this issue. These concerns deserve thoughtful and respectful consideration, but, in the final analysis, the arguments for inaction are outweighed by the moral imperative to do all that is possible to alleviate the suffering for the millions of Americans afflicted with diseases for which stem cell research holds the promise for cure or treatment. The moral calculus here in its most consequential form compares tens of thousands of embryos that are already destined for destruction in in-vitro fertilization clinics with the potential to lengthen the lives and reduce the suffering of upwards of 100 million living American citizens.

This is a fundamentally different calculus and one that has persuaded many individuals such as Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who believe in the right to life, in the wisdom also of embryonic stem cell research.

New York should support stem cell research; there is simply too much at stake for the health of our citizens and the health of our economy if we fail to act.