By Don C. Reed
In a moment, the stem cells. But first, let me tell you a story.
Can you remember your most important decision? Mine was the night I asked Gloria to marry me.
She was visiting in rural Pennsylvania, and there was a thunderstorm outside the hotel room.
I was sitting on the floor. There was only one chair (obviously for her) and I certainly was not going to sit on THE BED: those were more innocent times.
And I said, “Um — so we should probably get married, huh?”
“No,” she said.
“What, you don’t want to?”
“You don’t get to ask me like that — it has to be done properly.”
I said “Oh”. I thought about it for a moment, while outside lightning split the sky.
I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me. She smiled.
“Do it again,” she said, “I like this moment.”
So I did it, two more times — and then “That’s it, no more!” and she said “Yes, okay, I will marry you!” and we kissed.
And then, (because I had to mark the moment also), I stripped off my clothes, down to my underwear.
“No, no!” said Gloria, misunderstanding.
I ran outside, into the pouring rain, hooked my feet on the edge of the motel swimming pool, and dived in, feeling like Tarzan.
As I cut through the surface, a bolt of lightning framed the underwater world. Even without a mask, I saw my shadow on the concrete wall. it occurred to me this was not perhaps the safest place to be.
I climbed out of the pool and ran inside, dripping wet, laughing.
“Are you crazy?” said Gloria, smothering me with towels.
We stayed married fifty years, (she passed away several months ago) and I never regretted it one second. It was the most impactful, important decision of my life.
Now. What would be California’s most important stem cell decision?
No question at all. It will be how we vote on Proposition 14, the California Stem Cell Research, Treatments and Cures Initiative of 2020.
In 2004, California said “YES!” to Proposition 71, the $3 billion stem cell initiative. There were three years of political obstacles to overcome (ideological lawsuits, frivolous but time-consuming) but at last the program began.
Ever since, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM for short) has been hard at work, challenging diseases and disabilities long considered incurable.
And we are beginning to win.
Think of a disease, any one you like. Chances are, California has been fighting it.
For instance, cancer. CIRM research helped locate the villain — the cancer stem cell, evil twin of good stem cells — and how it hides.
The cancer stem cell has a “don’t eat me” signal which prevents the body’s immune system from finding it. Now, thanks to Stanford’s Irv Weissman and CIRM, we know how to remove that “cloak of invisibility”.
Also, children’s lives have been saved, using unprecedented techniques and procedures, as in the “bubble baby disease”, Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), until now a death sentence. When there is no functioning immune system, a common cold can be fatal.
Today, fifty little girls and boys are alive, because of CIRM-funded scientist/doctors like DR. Donald Kohn of UCLA. Some of the patient’s bone marrow is removed, altered, put back — and now their immune system works.
The same technique may work against the cruel disease sickle cell anemia.
Two kinds of blindness — age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa — are being fought. In both cases, measurable improvements have been determined.
Diabetes? A tool has been made, smaller than a credit card, which the patient would wear under the skin. It may help people with diabetes make their own insulin. It may convert stem cells into insulin the body needs.
Arthritis? It may be possible to re-grow worn-out cartilage inside the knee joint, so a person could walk without pain once more.
Alpha Thalassemia — A baby was healed of this usually fatal disease while still inside his mother’s womb — the first in utero stem cell transplant operation in the history of the world.
Paralysis? Newly injured people have recovered a measure of upper body power and control, allowing them more authority over their own lives, so they can feed themselves, or operate a computer.
Because CIRM’s scientific discoveries are written up and available (3,000 published medical discoveries, a veritable library of information) the techniques will not be held secret, but will help heal world disease.
But now the money has been spent — carefully, over 16 years. Without continued funding, many projects will have to stop: though there is so much more to do.
Shall we go forward, and complete the job?
That is the great decision of Proposition 14: the California Stem Cell Research, Treatments and Cures Initiative of 2020.
On November 3rd, California will vote; Prop 14 will be on the ballot.
We can either authorize $5.5 billion to keep the program going — or do nothing, and watch it die.
Too much money? Compare it to the cost of chronic disease — roughly $3 TRILLION last year — as much as the entire federal government budget.
Our goal is not to just maintain people in misery — we work to make them well.
Stem cell/gene therapies may bring healing. But first we must fund the research.
If you know someone with a chronic disease (and you almost certainly do, with one out of two Americans having at least one) — vote YES! on Prop 14.
Fight back against cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, kidney failure, paralysis, incontinence, heart disease, deafness, liver failure, cystic fibrosis and more!
Vote YES! on Prop 14 — do it for someone you love.
Don C. Reed is the author of “CALIFORNIA CURES”, from World Scientific Publishing, Inc., and other books on the California stem cell program.