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Stem cell forum to link science, society

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    Stem cell forum to link science, society

    Stem cell forum to link science, society

    Speakers from many fields to discuss ethical issues, bond between genetic research and law, business

    By Charlotte Hsu

    The UCLA Center for Society and Genetics will host a symposium Sunday on the role of embryonic stem cell research in society, with speakers discussing how the science relates to fields including business and law.

    The forum, titled "Stem Cells: Promise and Peril in Regenerative Medicine," will involve participants with backgrounds in about 10 different academic fields, reflecting the center's focus on an interdisciplinary approach toward examining issues related to genetics.

    Stem cells taken from embryos, which are fertilized eggs that have begun cell division, are "pluripotent," meaning they have the potential to develop into different types of cells. Embryonic stem cell research may one day yield therapies for diseases ranging from cancer to neurological disorders.

    Among other topics, speakers at the symposium will discuss both the way the media covers stem cell-related stories and Proposition 71, the measure Californians passed in 2004 to fund stem cell research with a $3 billion bond.

    Russell Korobkin and Stephen Munzer, UCLA School of Law faculty, will talk about legal questions raised by stem cell research. The two will present what they feel are the most important and interesting legal issues related to stem cells, including federal and state laws regulating the research and ownership of biological materials.

    Korobkin said that while legal experts tend to focus on narrow subjects such as how patents affect stem cell research, he and Munzer are hoping to give a general overview of how the law relates to today's research.

    "What we're trying to do is think broadly. ... We've tried to take the first crack to identify the range of issues," Korobkin said.

    "Really, this is a snapshot of the law relating to stem cell research at a particular time," he added. "The legal landscape could look completely different in a year or two."

    One aspect of the symposium is the "promise" in this field of medicine.

    "The promise is surely cures for these terrible diseases," said Sally Gibbons, associate director of the UCLA Center for Society and Genetics. Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and AIDS, among other ailments, may all be treated one day with therapies derived from stem cell research.

    If realized, advances in medicine based on the research could also hold an economic benefit for the health care industry and others. On the opposite end, "the peril has to do with a range of ethical issues," Gibbons said.

    Many people argue that taking stem cells from human embryos for research is immoral. President Bush has referred to embryonic stem cell research as a "science which destroys life in order to save life."

    Among newer questions the research has raised is what to do in the case of "stem cell chimeras," Gibbons said.

    These chimeras would be created by scientists injecting human tissue into animals to test therapies derived from stem cell research. Gibbons said the concern is what kind of rights the animal would have and how much human tissue an animal would need to contain before it becomes in some way "human."

    The symposium, scheduled to be held from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Grand Horizon Room in Covel Commons on Sunday, is free and open to the public.

    To learn more, visit

    ''Embryonic stem cell research may one day yield therapies for diseases ranging from cancer to neurological disorders.''

    The 'may one day yield' line is waring rather thin.


      Dr. Owen Witte, UCLA Stem Cell Biology and Dr Bayrd, UCLA AIDS Insitute

      Director of the UCLA Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine Witte's faculty web page
      Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine

      Owen Witte, UCLA Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine

      “The study of embryonic and adult stem cells is expected to yield valuable clues about the biology of a number of diseases that plague humanity. More importantly, stem cell research may result in new and better ways to treat cancers, neurological disorders, HIV/AIDS and metabolic disorders such as diabetes - diseases that impact tens of millions of Americans. I believe it is the government’s responsibility to do everything possible to deepen our understanding of the possibilities related to stem cell science.”

      Associate director of the UCLA AIDS Institute UCLA AIDS Institute

      Edwin Bayrd, UCLA AIDS Institute

      “This is a question that the public itself has answered, and answered emphatically, when an overwhelming plurality of California voters endorsed Proposition 71. This country has a long tradition of funding scientific research with public funds, so there is nothing novel in using tax dollars to support research in the rapidly evolving and hugely promising field of stem cell research.

      “Only public funding - at a significant level - will ensure that predictable, reliable and adequate funding is available to researchers, at UCLA and elsewhere, who are engaged in this vital work -and allow that work to continue unimpeded and uninterrupted.

      This is especially important to members of the UCLA AIDS Institute, who are conducting a clinical trial of an experimental, stem cell-based gene therapy treatment for HIV at this moment. For the AIDS Institute, the future is now - and public funding of stem cell research is essential to the process of developing less toxic, more effective treatments for the plague of our time.”


        When was the last time a potentially therapeutic treatment elicited such a mutidsiciplinary conversation?

        Lesson learned: any talk about stem cells is not insular.