By Naveed Mansoori

What if there was treatment available for illnesses such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer? The possibility of such treatment is not so far off, and it has induced change from the top of Capitol Hill to the Research Department at UC Santa Cruz.

Last Thursday, Jan. 18, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 was passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 253-174. The bill will increase the amount of federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, which is the most controversial form of stem cell research because of the destruction of embryos involved in its process.

Sam Farr, Santa Cruz County’s House representative, was among the 253 representatives who voted for the act. His vote on this particular act was bolstered by personal experience regarding members of his family.

"I have disabled folks in my family that have great hope that this might bring some relief to their spinal cord injuries," Farr said in an interview with City on a Hill Press (CHP).

California has taken major steps to progress stem cell research. Proposition 71 passed in 2004, making stem cell research-primarily with the use of embryos-a state constitutional right and allocating $3 billion among the state’s top research facilities.

Last year, UC Santa Cruz was granted $375,000 for stem cell research, and another $1 million over the next three years is expected.

Even with the ability to conduct human embryonic stem cell research, UCSC has not yet begun such experimentation.

Vice Chancellor of Research Bruce Margon explained that although UCSC does not have human embryos, it is "establishing the regulatory infrastructure and the legal agreement so that [it] will be able to acquire cells in the near future."

In the meantime, six scholars will be receiving support from the grant money requiring them to take a course "specifically on the issue of stem cell ethics," Margon said.

David Feldheim, assistant professor of Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology, has been partaking in stem cell research on campus that is being done with mice and flies.

"We don’t do [embryonic stem cell] research because of its restrictions, and the people we’ve been hiring are not stem cell researchers," Feldheim said. He doesn’t feel that human embryonic stem cell research is a possibility at UCSC.

Ethical opposition is limiting the advent of stem cell research.Father John Warburton, shrine director at Oblates of Saint Joseph in Santa Cruz, is one voice of opposition.

"Embryonic stem cell research kills a human being," Warburton said. "To kill a human being is Naziism. That is moral insanity. Our whole civilization is based on do-no-harm. The ends do not justify the means."

Gene Thomas, communications director for Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics, is opposed to embryonic stem cell research for both ethical and practical reasons.

"[My] ethical concerns [are that] it requires the destruction of a human embryo, or a human life by definition," Thomas said. "Proposition 71 is destroying human life for research and manufacturing human life in order to destroy it. It’s basically saying it’s not a crime to kill."

Feldheim expects the voices oppositing stem cell research will die down in the future.
"Like in vitro fertilization, people were appalled," Feldheim said. "Ten years later nobody was complaining. I think the same process will happen with stem cell research."