Blind World Magazine

Stem cell research holds hope for New York's economic well-being.

By David Paterson, Guest essayist
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, NY.
Thursday, April 27, 2006.

On Monday, I visited the Aab Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Rochester Medical Center to discuss the bold new agenda for stem cell research that Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and I have for New York.

Our plan would allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to assist our researchers, labs and hospitals to keep cutting-edge human embryonic stem cell research in New York, and make this urgent, promising area of discovery a top priority.

Every cell of your body contains the same set of genes, which make cells grow into different organs. Stem cell researchers try to discover the genetic code that makes cells grow into different kinds of cells and organs.

This research represents our best hope for treating disease.

Unfortunately medical science has taken a back seat to Washington politics, and federal restrictions have hamstrung scientists trying to carry out this potentially life-saving research. In the absence of federal leadership, the states must serve as labs for new policies. That is why we must act in New York.

Recently New York state's budget was passed without any money for stem cell research. That is wrong. New York should be leading the way in stem cell research, but sadly, we have fallen behind some other states. As of 2004, 40 states had economic initiatives aimed at attracting biotech research and there is currently a bidding war for top research talent.

The good news is that New York is already home to much of this talent, at places such as the Aab Institute. The bad news is that New York has not even begun to invest the level of state money necessary to keep its current stem cell researchers and attract new ones.

We know that the potential medical and economic benefits of stem cell research in New York will be profound. That is why, if elected in November, Eliot Spitzer and I will implement a five-point plan to ensure that our state is at the forefront of this exciting field:

We will pass laws preserving the legality of research on all stem cell lines derived from excess embryos frozen at in-vitro fertilization clinics, provided that the donors give their informed consent.

We will ban human reproductive cloning.

We will create an independent bioethics review board to help craft guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research.

We will commit at least $1 billion over 10 years to support stem cell research and other life sciences in New York.

We will establish an independent stem cell commission to hold researchers accountable to ethics guidelines that employ a rigorous peer review process involving scientists from outside New York state.

Stem cell research also makes good economic sense. New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi reported that in 2003, New York's biotech and pharmaceutical industries employed nearly 55,000 New Yorkers, paying them $3.3 billion in wages. Furthermore, each of these jobs created an estimated one additional job on average in New York. As a result, the combined economic impact of these industries supported about 110,000 jobs in New York and created about $18.1 billion in economic activity, as well as generating $327 million in state income taxes. Since New York lost 136,000 manufacturing jobs in 2000-03, we need these research jobs to keep New Yorkers working.

We know some people oppose stem cell research on ethical grounds. While I respect their views, my own background has taught me that it is our responsibility to use science to make the world a better place. Stem cell research follows this teaching, trying to find cures that don't yet exist and to treat patients who cannot now be treated. Of course, this research should have limits and must be subject to oversight standards. The goal of a future Spitzer-Paterson administration is to make stem cell research legal, vital and ethical.

Some time ago, a doctor checked my eyesight. Because I've been legally blind my whole life, it didn't take very long. The doctor told me, "There's nothing we can do." I have never liked hearing that, and I understand how angry it makes people to be told that. But for children born today and tomorrow, there is something we can do. We can invest in stem cell research, we can support cutting-edge medical innovation, and we can push the boundaries.

Paterson, a Democrat, is state Senate minority leader and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's running mate in the race for New York governor.

End of article.

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