An initiative on the ballot in California would authorize the issuance of billions of dollars worth of bonds to fund embryonic stem cell research. If approved by voters, Proposition 71 would cost California taxpayers $6 billion dollars over a period of 30 years ($3 billion to pay off the principle and another $3 billion in interest). According to news polls California voters seem to be split on the issue. Supporters see the initiative as a way of finding cures for diseases like Alzheimer's. Opponents say the plan is too expensive and the potential benefits are exaggerated.
Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different kinds of cells and thus can be used to repair damaged tissue. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential to either remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell. There are two basic types of stems cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are extracted from fertilized eggs, but when the stem cells are removed the egg is distroyed. Adult stem cells can be safely extracted from various places in the human body, such as fatty tissue, blood, and bone marrow.
Embryonic stem cell research is not illegal, however in August of 2001 President Bush issued an executive order limiting federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. If voters approve Proposition 71 the state of California would be one of the largest sources of funding for embryonic stem cell research in the world, investing more than 10 times as much as the federal government.
Proposition 71, also known as the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, is designed specifically to fund embryonic stem cell research rather than adult stem cell research. The initiative states that "In order to ensure that Institute funding does not duplicate or supplant existing funding, a high priority shall be placed on funding pluripotent stem cell and progenitor cell research that cannot, or is unlikely to, receive timely or sufficient federal funding, unencumbered by limitations that would impede the research. In this regard, other research categories funded by the National Institute of Health shall not be funded by the [California Institute for Regenerative Medicine]."
Media attention has been primarily focused on embryonic stem cell research, even though expiriments using embryonic cells have only produced limited results. Unlike embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells have been sucessfully used to restore sight, treat spinal cord injuries, diabetes, heart disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, cancer, and nearly 100 other disorders.
The field of biotechnology is among the ten Strategic Trends that we monitor on a regular basis. The Strategic Trends are subjects that we believe have the potential to impact your country, your career, and your family in the coming months and years. They are important not only to our nation, but also to the Body of Christ.