This past week PCN broadcast the press conference held by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Patrick Murphy, Democratic candidate for the 8th congressional district, a little over a week ago to discuss stem cell research. These comments are from my notes and not a complete description of all that was said. My apologies if I missed anything. At the end there are references to newspaper articles on the press conference and some further information on a few items that were mentioned.
On the front lawn of her house Carol Mann spoke about her son David, also in attendance, who has been in a wheelchair since a diving accident. He graduated from Princeton and is currently working on a doctorate in economics at the University of Pennsylvania, and mentors younger patients at McGee Rehabilitation Hospital.
Melissa Pitts has 6 year old twin sons. One had a spinal cord injury at birth and is also in a wheelchair. It doesn’t seem to have slowed him down as you could see the twins racing around in the background and occasionally someone had to step out of the way of the chair as it whipped by, the brother either right in front or right behind it.
Patrick Murphy talked about the importance of embryonic stem cell research and pointed out that incumbent Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick had voted against it twice. Murphy said the embryos used are 2-3 days old and are currently discarded as medical waste. He cites Johns Hopkins research that showed significant improvement in adult animals with spinal cord injuries, regenerating neuron circuits with embryonic stem cells. (See footnote and link below for more information on this study.)
Both Murphy and Pelosi are Catholics and mentioned a moral responsibility to heal the sick.
Pelosi said these decisions shouldn’t be political but about basic biomedical research. She also said that not one person in American isn’t one phone call away from needing stem cell research. A grammatically tortured sentence, but an effective one nonetheless. As evidence of her strong beliefs she said that if there is a Democratic majority in the next Congress, with a veto proof vote, she will bring up stem cell research in the first 100 hours. Everyone take note, this is a specific promise and one easily tracked if there is a majority.
Melissa Pitts spoke about her son and said it wasn’t just about wheelchairs but also sensation, bladder and bowel control.
Reporters were invited to ask questions.
The first was on the sensitivity to the religious aspects of embryonic stem cell research. Murphy again mentioned his Catholicism and that his wife was also Catholic and had been active in the College Republicans in her student years. She switched parties saying she had not left the party but the party had left her. He also said that there wasn’t an outcry about the current disposal of embryos by fertility clinics. He cited the Christian imperative to heal the sick. (He incorrectly placed this in the Beattitudes. See note below). Pelosi said that work in politics is an extension of faith. She put the Biblical imperative to heal the sick in Matthew 25:44-46 (she didn’t have the exact reference but put it in the context of those verses. This also is incorrect; she note below.)
I didn’t catch the second question. Pelosi mentioned that Republicans are catering to a small minority. Courage is to do the right thing and do the wishes of the people.
The third question was on Murphy’s stance on embryonic stem cell research versus stem cell research generally. Murphy said embryonic stem cell research was the most promising and could be ethically done. He said Mike Fitzpatrick and Pres. Bush stand against scientific research. Pelosi said we all support adult stem cell research but embryonic stem cell research is the most promising.
Carol Mann spoke again and said she had talked with Fitzpatrick. He is in favor of adult stem cell research but not embryonic stem cell research. Research in diabetes and neurology needs embryonic stem cells. She mentioned that America is losing the top research scientists in these areas as they go to other countries to do their research. As one example she cited Wise Young of Rutgers who studies spinal cord. He has taken a sabbatical to supervise a project on embryonic stem cell research in China. (see note below)
Local newspapers published articles on the press conference. Read the following for more details:
“Top Democrat visits Bucks to stump for Patrick Murphy: Nancy
Pelosi says he should be elected to further issues such as stem-cell
Research,” by Brian Callaway The Morning Call August 26, 2006
"This science can be the answer to our prayers' - House Minority
Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., held a press conference with 8th
District candidate Patrick Murphy to show support for embryonic stem cell
Research,” by Brian Scheid THE INTELLIGENCER August 26, 2006
Johns Hopkins research
The researchers created what amounts to a cookbook recipe to restore lost nerve function, Kerr explains. The approach could one day repair damage from such diseases as ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), multiple sclerosis or transverse myelitis or from traumatic spinal cord injury, the researchers say. “With small adjustments keyed to differences in nervous system targets,” Kerr says, “the approach may also apply to patients with Parkinson's or Huntington’s disease.”
In a report on the study, to be released online June 26 in the Annals of Neurology, the Hopkins team says 11 of the 15 treated rats gained significant, though partial, recovery from paralysis after losing motor neurons to an aggressive infection with Sindbis virus -- one that, in rodents, specifically targets motor neurons and kills them. The animals recovered enough muscle strength to bear weight and step with the previously paralyzed hind leg.
Wise Young’s study in China
Technology Review 4/18/06
A growing number of patients are heading to China for experimental therapies, such as cell transplants to treat spinal cord injuries and other diseases. But scientists in the field harshly criticize the trend, saying these therapies are costly, unproven, and potentially unsafe (see "The Problematical Dr. Huang Hongyun," January 2005).
Now Wise Young, an internationally recognized expert in spinal cord injury, aims to address some of the problems associated with humans tests involving experimental therapies. He is spearheading a new project to conduct rigorous clinical trials in China and has set up a network of Chinese hospitals to test new treatments for spinal cord injury.
Biblical imperative to heal the sick
Murphy put this in the Beattitudes, Pelosi alluded to Matthew 25:44-46, neither mentions healing the sick. It is hard to get quotes right if you don’t have them right in front of you. Using a small concordance I found Matthew 10:8 and Mark 3:15, but these verses, in their entirety, have a few problems for the modern audience. Someone higher up in the Democratic Party needs to sit down and find an appropriate verse and send out a memo on it.