Nearly 1,000 scientists and researchers from around the globe gathered at the Detroit Marriott on October 4, 2010 for the first day of the World Stem Cell Summit, a three-day conference on the rapidly advancing field. Stem Cell research, the study of cells in multicellular organisms as a tool for medicine, has been a source of contention between political parties for years now. . Though Stem Cell research is done with both adult and embryonic cells, opponents of embryonic stem cell research — which relies on leftover embryos from fertility treatment that would be thrown away — view the science as immoral. Conservatives oppose the research of embryonic stem cells because it destroys the cell which could have been a living organism. Liberals support the research because of its strong promise to advance medicine and find cures.
The issue of embryonic stem cell research became a highlight, in fact, at the summit. During several sessions, speakers cited the need to address the language of a 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment that led to a federal lawsuit. This amendment prohibits the use of federal funds to destroy human embryos and is causing quite a ruckus within the science world. Federally funded embryonic stem cell research has been ordered to temporarily continue by the Obama Administration after an injunction was issued in August by a lower court to stop the funding. With the government stepping in and the controversial issue based at home, Michigan legislature has come into play. The University of Michigan Stem Cell Research Center has been a major player in the injunction battle. And attention is being averted to Michigan legislature over federal policy.
In the past, local attempts to regulate a voter-approved constitutional amendment in 2008, known as Proposal 2, have been made. Proposal 2 allows Michigan researchers to create embryonic stem cell lines. After the passage of Proposal 2, a package of bills was introduced in the Michigan Legislature that sought to regulate the research and was passed this spring by the Republican-controlled Senate. Leadership of the Democrat-led Michigan House of Representatives specified it would not, however, address the bills. And even more recently, language was attached to the state’s higher education budget regarding stem cell research but was taken out before passage. Among the key players at the World Stem Cell summit were Sean Morrison, director of U-M Stem Cell Research, Ed Rivet, legislative director of Right to Life of Michigan, Sheri Mark, president of Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures, and Michigan Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton. All representatives, opponents and supporters alike, gathered in the midst of Michigan’s stem cell scuffle.
And with the recent advances made in Michigan, the University of Michigan has just announced its successful creation of its first stem cell line, the rollercoaster continues. Federal funding continues to be the backbone of Stem Cell Research. While research is taking off like wild fire in the state, federal funding or lack thereof could inhibit growth.