July 17, 2006
Mr. President, a few weeks ago I was visited by two of my constituents-- Mary Schneider and her son Ryan.
When Ryan was just two years old, his parents and doctors noted severe delays in his motor and speech development, and he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. His parents were devastated, as the prognosis for many children with cerebral palsy is quite grim, and given the severity of Ryan's condition, his doctors didn't have much hope for his improvement.
Yet, his parents had hope. Because when Ryan was born, his parents had saved his cord blood, a viable but limited source of stem cells. They found a doctor at Duke University who was willing to perform an experimental infusion with these cells to see if they might improve his condition.
They did. In fact, they seem to have cured him.
Within months of the infusion, Ryan was able to speak, use his arms, and eat normally, just like any other child - a miracle his family had once only dreamed of.
Ryan's story exemplifies the power and the promise of stem cells to treat and cure the millions of Americans who are suffering from catastrophic, debilitating and life-threatening diseases and health conditions.
Each year, 100,000 Americans will develop Alzheimer's disease. Over 1 million adults will be diagnosed with diabetes this year, which can lead to complications such as blindness, damaged nerves and loss of kidney function. And there are far too many individuals with spinal cord injuries who are struggling to maintain mobility and independence.
For most of our history, medicine has offered little hope of recovery to individuals affected by these and other devastating illnesses and injuries.
Recent developments in stem cell research may hold the key to improved treatments, if not cures, for those affected by Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, spinal cord injury and countless other conditions.
Many men, women and children who are cancer survivors are already familiar with the life-saving applications of adult stem cell research. Patients with leukemia or lymphoma often undergo bone marrow transplants, a type of stem cell transplant, which can significantly prolong life, or permanently get rid of the cancer. This therapy has been used successfully for decades, and is saving lives everyday.
Yet this breakthrough has its serious limitations. Adult stem cells, such as those used in bone marrow transplants, can only be collected in small quantities, may not be a match for the patient, and have limited ability to transform into specialized cells.
Cord blood, like the kind Ryan used, has limitations as well. If, for example, young Ryan's condition should deteriorate or he should develop another illness, there simply are not enough cord blood cells left for a second use. His mother has told us that the few remaining cells would have to be cloned to get enough cells for future use, or they would have to obtain stem cells from another source.
These and other difficulties are the reasons why scientists have started to explore other types and other sources for stem cells, including embryonic stem cell research.
Embryonic stem cells can be obtained from a number of sources, including in vitro fertilization. At this very moment, there are over 400,000 embryos being stored in over 400 facilities throughout the United States. The majority of these are reserved for infertile couples. However, many of these embryos will go unused, destined for permanent storage in a freezer or disposal. We should expand and accelerate research using these embryos, just as we should continue to explore the viability of adult stem cell use and cord blood use.
All over the country, exciting progress is being made in the area of embryonic stem cell research. At the University of Illinois, they're finding that stem cells have the potential to treat blood disorders, lung diseases, and heart damage.
At Johns Hopkins, researchers were able to use mouse embryonic stem cells to repair damaged nerves and restore mobility in paralyzed rats. One can't help but think that it's a matter of when, not if, this research will be able to one day help those who have lost the ability to walk.
For these reasons, I'm proud to be a long-term supporter of greater stem cell research. While I was a member of the Illinois Senate, I was the chief cosponsor of the Ronald Reagan Biomedical Research Act, which would specifically permit embryonic stem cell research in Illinois, and establish review of this research by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
And I'm proud to be a cosponsor of the stem cell bill before us today. This bill embodies the innovative thinking that we as a society demand and medical advancement requires. By expanding scientific access to embryonic stem cells which would be otherwise discarded, this bill will help our nation's scientists and researchers develop treatments and cures to help people who suffer from illnesses and injuries for which there are currently none. But the bill is not without limits; it requires that scientific research also be subject to rigorous oversight.
I realize there are moral and ethical issues surrounding this debate. But I also realize that we're not talking about harvesting cells that would've been used to create life and we're not talking about cloning humans. We're talking about using stem cells that would have otherwise been discarded and lost forever - and we're talking about using those stem cells to possibly save the lives of millions of Americans.
Democrats want this bill to pass. Conservative, pro-life Republicans want this bill to pass. By large margins, the American people want this bill to pass. It is only the White House standing in the way of progress - standing in the way of so many potential cures.
I would only ask that the President thinks about this before he picks up his pen to deliver his first veto in six years. I would ask that he thinks about Ryan Schneider and his parents, and all the other families who are sitting and waiting and praying for a cure - hoping that somewhere, a researcher or scientist will find the answer.
There was a time in the middle of the last century when America watched helplessly as a mysterious disease left thousands - especially children - disabled for life. The medical community worked tirelessly to try and find a cure, but they needed help - they needed funding to make their research possible.
With a world war raging and the country still emerging from depression, the federal government could have ignored their plight or told them to find a cure on their own.
But that didn't happen. Instead, Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped galvanize a community of compassion and organize the March of Dimes to find the cure for polio. And while Roosevelt knew that his own polio would never be cured by the discovery of a vaccine, he also knew that at its best, government can be used as a force to accomplish together what we cannot achieve on our own.
And so the people began to care and the dimes piled up and the funding started to flow, and fifty years ago, Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine.
Americans are looking for that kind of leadership today. All over the country, patients and their families are waiting today for Congress and the President to open the door to the cures of tomorrow. At the dawn of the 21st century, we should approach this research with the same passion and commitment that have led to so many cures and saved so many lives throughout our history.
I urge my colleagues to support this bill. Thank you.