On the heels of an April Appellate Court ruling that allowed the government to support stem cell research, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) hosted a symposium on medical research at Northwestern University's Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center.
"The potential of stem cell research to cure Alzheimer's, cancer or diabetes is limitless if we aggressively support American medical research," Senator Kirk said.
"Like my father who died of Pulmonary Fibrosis, many patients with certain diseases still face few treatment options," Senator Kirk said. "Stem cell research offers the best promise to cure juvenile diabetes and certain blood cancers. "That is why I believe Republicans and Democrats should unite behind keeping the United States first in medical research."
While in the House of Representatives, Senator Kirk supported a bill called the Stem Cell Research Advancement Act (H.R. 4808), that retained the National Institutes of Health (NIH) ethical requirements for embryonic stem cell research while expanding the scope of diseases researched.
The bill would also establish in statute President Obama's stem cell Executive Order. This Executive Order reversed an eight-year-old Bush Administration restriction on federal funding for stem cell research that allowed support for only 21 existing stem cell lines. Many of these 21 stem cell lines became compromised and did not offer the genetic diversity needed for successful science, and President Obama's order expanded available support to 91 stem cell lines.
"If senior Democratic Senators choose not to move this legislation in this Congress, I will," said Senator Kirk.
The NIH subsequently drafted new guidelines and identified new stem cell lines eligible for federal research support. Those new guidelines currently face court challenges in the case of Sherley v. Sebelius.
Until April of this year, support for stem cell research was suspended based on an injunction issued by the federal district court of the District of Columbia. That injunction was overturned by an appellate court, thereby restoring federal funding to levels outlined by the 2009 guidelines. Further litigation is expected, underlining the need for the legislation.
Kirk's stem cell symposium, which was followed by a tour of the center's laboratory facilities, featured statements and presentations by Dr. Jack Kessler and Dr. Richard Fessler of Northwestern University, Dr. Elizabeth McNally of the University of Chicago, and Dr. Amarjit Virdi of Rush University. Also in attendance were Jonny Imerman and Jared Kuper. Imerman is a cancer survivor and founder of the Chicago nonprofit group, Imerman Angels, which matches cancer survivors with recently diagnosed patients for personal support and counseling. Kuper is a 9-year-old patient advocate with Type 1 diabetes.
Researchers say pluripotent stem cells have nearly limitless potential to test new cures and treatments for illness and injuries. This research provides hope for millions of Americans suffering from a wide range of diseases, including diabetes, cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and spinal cord injuries. There are an estimated one million people in the United States with Parkinson's, three million with Type 1 diabetes, 200,000 with spinal cord injuries, and 128,000 with pulmonary fibrosis.
Background on the panelists below:
* Dr. John A. Kessler, M.D. is the Davee Professor of Stem Cell Biology and Chair of the Davee Department of Neurology, Director of the Feinberg Neuroscience Institute, and Director of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Stem Cell Institute.
* Dr. Richard G. Fessler, M.D. Ph. D. serves as Professor of Neurosurgery at the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University. He previously founded and directed the Institute for Spine Care at the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch (CINN) and was Professor of Neurological Surgery at Rush Medical College in Chicago, after serving as Director of Clinical Services and Education at the University of Florida Brain Institute.
* Dr. Elizabeth McNally, M.D., Ph.D. is a Professor of Medicine and Human Genetics at the University of Chicago where she also directs the University of Chicago Institute for Cardiovascular Research. Her expertise in the genetic mechanisms of cardiomyopathies and muscular dystrophies has led to new insight about how hearts fail and how muscle degenerates.
* Dr. Amarjit Virdi, Ph.D. is the Graduate Director at Rush University Medical Center in the Division of Anatomy and Cell Biology. He got his Ph.D. at University of Oxford in England.
* Jonny Imerman is a young adult cancer survivor who strives to make sure no one fights cancer without the support of someone who has already triumphed over the disease. After being diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 26, Jonny decided to found Imerman Angels, a non-profit organization, which carefully matches a person touched by cancer (a cancer fighter) with someone who has fought and survived the same type of cancer (a Mentor Angel). Imerman Angels now has more than 4,000 cancer survivors and more than 1,500 caregivers in its network.
* Jared Kuper is 9 years old and was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2009. In 2010, the American Diabetes Association named Jared a Youth Ambassador for Illinois and Northern Indiana. He continues to actively raise awareness about the complicated issues surrounding diabetes and how to better manage and control the disease.