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New Jersey Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee

December 6, 2002

Testimony by Christopher Reeve, November 25, 2002

New Jersey Testimony I am testifying today as an individual who has lived for the past eight years with paralysis from the shoulders down caused by a severe spinal cord injury. Although I was born out of state, I was raised in Princeton from the age of three and have always maintained a close personal, professional, and political interest in New Jersey. That is why I am here to express my gratitude to Senate President Richard J. Codey and Senator Barbara Buono and to urge passage of S.1909, which will allow New Jersey scientists to conduct research on stem cells derived from any source.

The subject of stem cells and their potential to cure a wide variety of diseases and disabilities is clouded by contradictions and misinformation. Thousands of excess embryos derived in some 400 infertility clinics throughout the country are discarded every year as medical waste. Scientists and patient advocates have tried in vain to obtain federal funding to save some of those embryos and the stem cells they contain for biomedical research. Opponents have successfully argued that such research is immoral. But if research on embryos destined for destruction is immoral, why has there not been a public outcry? Why have opponents of embryonic stem cell research not attempted to shut down IVF clinics?

If anything is immoral it is to deny scientists access to unwanted embryos that are available at infertility clinics. The federal policy on embryonic stem cell research is misguided and inadequate. Of the 64 stem cell lines approved by President Bush on August 9, 2001 to date only 17 have been made available. Many of them are owned by foreign governments or private companies; therefore progress towards therapies will be hindered by patent issues and intellectual property rights. The lines contain mouse feeder cells, so there is no certainty that the FDA will approve them for implantation in humans. The National Institutes of Health should be allowed to fund research on excess fertilized embryos within strict ethical guidelines. Since that is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future, it now falls to State legislatures to move this critical science forward.

The misinformation surrounding stem cell research has had a damaging impact on the creation of public policy. For example, the idea has been put forward that adult stem cells are better than embryonic stem cells because they have the same therapeutic potential without the controversy. The fact is that stem cells from fertilized eggs have the ability to grow into any type of cell or organ in the body. Adult tissue stem cells appear to have a much more restricted path for development, limiting their usefulness in therapies for diseases. Recently 80 Nobel Laureates sent a letter to President Bush stating that, "it is premature to conclude that adult stem cells have the same potential as embryonic stem cells". The Department of Health and Human Services released a report, "Stem Cells: Scientific Progress and Future Research Directions" in June 2001. The report confirms the incredible potential that embryonic stem cells represent. It also stresses that there is limited evidence that adult stem cells can generate mature, fully functional cells or that the cells have restored lost function in vivo.

As stated in Chapter Five of "Stem Cells and the Future of Regenerative Medicine" published this year by the National Academy of Science, "A substantial obstacle to the success of transplantation of any cells, including stem cells and their derivatives, is the immune-mediated rejection of foreign tissue by the recipient's body. In current stem cell transplantation procedures with bone marrow and blood, success hinges on obtaining a close match between donor and recipient tissues and on the use of immunosuppressive drugs, which often have severe and potentially life-threatening side effects. To ensure that stem cell-based therapies can be broadly applicable for many conditions and people, new means of overcoming the problem of tissue rejection must be found. Although ethically controversial, the somatic cell nuclear transfer technique promises to have that advantage".

Nuclear transplantation unfortunately is still a mystery to many elected officials and the public at large. Scientists isolate an unfertilized human egg when it contains only approximately 100 cells. Then they remove the nucleus and replace it with the patient's DNA. Shortly afterwards, before the resultant pre-embryo develops any human characteristics, stem cells are derived that are not likely to be rejected by the patient's immune system.

Clearly the issue of nuclear transplantation presents a great challenge to the Committee as well as the entire Senate. However, I urge you not to remove it from S.1909. Without it the bill will not fulfill the potential of life saving research and the State of New Jersey will miss the opportunity to lead the nation in an area where the federal government has failed us.

In conclusion I would like to share a recent statement by US Senator Orrin Hatch who is a co-sponsor of proposed legislation that regrettably has very little chance of reaching the Senate floor:

"As I considered the ethical appropriateness of nuclear transplantation in regenerative medicine research, two facts stood out:

  • The egg, with its nucleus removed, is never fertilized with sperm;
  • The resulting unfertilized, electrically activated embryo will not be implanted into a woman's womb so there is no chance of birth.

The absence of a fertilized egg coupled with a legal prohibition against implantation leads me to conclude that this research can be conducted, with appropriate safeguards, in an ethically proper fashion.

Regenerative medicine is pro-life and pro-family; it enhances, not diminishes, human life. If encouraged to flourish, it can improve the lives of millions of Americans and could lead to new scientific frontiers not now in sight."


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