TEXAS TORNADO: Three Billion dollars in Cancer Research May be Swept Away
Texas Governor Rick Perry’s recent recommendation that Texas secede from America was nonsensical. If the Governor is so uncomfortable in our country that he wishes to leave, that is his right; but he will not take Texas with him. Recent polls show the rest of his state is quite happy being associated with the United States.
This fuss and furor is just a blustering dust storm, stirred up for whatever temporary political purpose the Governor hoped to achieve. Few people took him seriously; I doubt very much he did either. (When Mr. Perry’s political biography is written, it will quite rightly pay more attention to the kindness of the Governor when Hurricane Katrina created homeless refugees—and Texas took them in—than this secession nonsense.)
But there is another Texas tornado which is deadly serious, and which may cost Texas families a great deal.
Anyone who has cancer (my sister has it; my mother died of it) wants the research for cure to move forward.
Lance Armstrong is a fighter for research, and he helped Texas pass an amazing
$3 billion dollar research bill dedicated to finding a cure for cancer. That money came with no restrictive anti-research strings attached.
Unfortunately, Senator Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) is attempting to block a vital component of that research: shutting down embryonic stem cell research in Texas.
Ogden is a cunning politico; this guy is legitimately tough, and knows how to street fight—unfortunately he is using his very real strengths to back an anti-research vision that is as out of step with America as the Governor Perry’s secession plan.
At a time when the rest of the country is embracing cure research, Mr. Ogden wants to ban it.
Because he knows he is out of touch with Texas voters, he first tried to do the damage quietly.
Senator Ogden inserted a “rider” onto the state’s must-pass budget bill, Senate Bill One. This rider bans state funding of embryonic stem cell research.
As Committee chairman, Ogden waited until pro-research committee members were out of the room, and then rushed through a quick vote, which passed 6-5.
There was no public notice, no testimony, no discussion. When asked about this undemocratic procedure, he replied that the members had been talking about it “privately”. No worries about sunshine or openness for Mr. Ogden!
Now, like a tick on the neck of a horse, that anti-research rider is attached to the budget, to suck the life out of the cancer research bill, and weaken that state’s hope for cure.
Asked if he thought this would end embryonic stem cell research in his state, the Senator reportedly replied, “If that bill won’t do it, the next one will.”
The Senate let his rider stay on—the House stripped it off—now the two houses will confer, and one will win and one will lose…
The next attack he spoke of, is Senate Bill 1695.
We need to let Senator Ogden know—politely but firmly—that the families of Texas and America deserve better.
Now here’s the catch. The Senator is an old pro, and as such knows how to block unwanted correspondence.
I called yesterday and left a message. Then I emailed him.
I doubt very much either message will reach him.
But I am also going to send him a personal letter, the old-fashioned kind, remember those, they have stamps on them? And that—even if thrown away—will be noticed.
Because nobody writes letters anymore. Any personal letter gets attention, and the Senator’s staff will be tallying the responses.
The Senator expects, I am sure, to hear nothing but letters of support from his allies in the Religious Right.
Let us surprise him. Politely, of course: rudeness only makes us look like fringe elements, instead of mainstream America, which is what we are.
I will be sending three copies of my letter to the Senator: one to each of his three public offices.
Those addresses are:
1. Sen. Steve Ogden, Texas Senate, P.O. Box 12068, Capitol Station, Austin, TX 78711
2. East District Office, 3740 Copperfield Drive, Suite 103, Bryan, Texas 77802
3. West District Office, 309 West Main, Suite 115, Round Rock, Texas 78664
Want some background? Below is probably more than you need, so if you already are up on the effort, feel free to skip over it—but please, help me with a letter, a call, or an email—don’t leave it to somebody else.
This is for Texas, but it is also for everyone. Texas is a wonderful state, huge, full of diverse energy and power—we need the scientists and colleges and patients and advocates and political leaders of the Lone Star State—we need Texas, and so does the world..
The following info is from my friends at TXAMR—Texans for the Advancement of Medical Research.
SB 1695 BY OGDEN (this is the second wave of attack I mentioned earlier–dr)
Bill Background info: Would limit the use of state money or facilities for research involving the destruction of human embryos, even those destined for discard as medical waste by IVF clinics and used to create stem cell lines for research. The rider would also ban IVF treatments.
WHAT THE BILL DOES:
• Ban research on stem cell lines created using fertilized eggs from fertility clinics, eggs that were destined to be discarded as medical waste. Using these eggs that would otherwise be thrown out to study diseases and to search for treatments and cures, offers the hope of healthier life for thousands of Texans.
• Ban research currently being conducted in state research institutions around the state. SB 1695 does much more than ban funding for embryonic stem cell research; it bans the conduct of the research by NIH funds as well as private funding.
• Ban current research on previously approved federal stem cell lines. Research studies using the embryonic stem lines approved by President Bush in 2001 would come to a halt in Texas.
• Stop all embryonic stem cell research in all state institutions in Texas
• Senator Ogden’s bill would prohibit the use of state dollars to pay the salaries of our state employed researchers who work with embryonic stem lines.
• Senate Bill 1695 would prohibit the use of state supported labs for embryonic stem cell research even if the research money comes from federal grants.
• Under Senator Ogden’s bill, researchers will face a choice of leaving state institutions or stopping their research. The state of Texas will likely lose our best researchers, their staff, their research grant money and their graduate students and medical students to other states and countries that appreciate good science and good medicine.
• Under Senator Ogden’s bill, cancer research conducted at the newly established Cancer Research Initiative, and research into other life threatening diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes will be severely limited.
• Senator Ogden’s bill would halt the gains we have made at better understanding how cells function and where malignancies or mutations occur and why. Researchers have repeatedly said that studying embryonic stem cells helps in the development of adult stem cell therapies.
WHAT YOU MIGHT WISH TO SAY:
I urge Senator Ogden to abandon his plans to push SB 1695 in Senate Finance Committee.
As a state with premier research institutions, citizens across the country are hopefully awaiting treatments and cures for life threatening diseases and conditions that may be discovered in Texas.
Texas has too much to lose in banning the funding of ethical, regulated embryonic stem cell research.
I urge Senator Ogden to carefully consider the human and economic losses in not supporting legal, ethical and safe embryonic stem cell research in this state.
Here is my letter (Don Reed)
Dear Senator Ogden:
First, thank you for being a Senator– I am sure it is never an easy job!
As the father of a paralyzed young man, Roman Reed, I am deeply distressed by SB 1695. I am very familiar with embryonic stem cell research, having been the citizen sponsor of a small law in California, the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act of 1999. “Roman’s Law” funded the first state-sponsored embryonic stem cell research in the nation—the spinal cord injury research experiment which goes to human trials this Summer.
I have seen it work. On March 1, 2002, in the laboratory named after my son (the Roman Reed Laboratory, within the Reeve-Irvine Research Institute at UC Irvine) I held in my hand a laboratory rat which had been paralyzed, but which walked again, thanks to embryonic stem cell research.
Biblically, I tend to go along with Psalm 139, which says, “He knit me together in my mother’s womb”. That is where an individual life begins. Scientifically, as you know, it is biologically impossible to create a child without a mother’s womb– and accordingly, cells in a Petri dish can never become a child.
I respect your right to your views, Senator Ogden, but please be aware there are millions of Americans who suffer every day, and who want the research to move forward.
Do please reconsider your advocacy for SB 1695. If enacted into law, it would slow the progress of Lone Star scientists as they work their way toward cure.
Don C. Reed
Want to know more, do more? More from our friends in TXAMR
About Stem Cell Research Bills Now Pending in the Texas Legislature
If you had a chance to make a call to your state senator and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, many thanks. If you didn’t, here’s another opportunity to make calls in support of stem cell research. Below is information on what’s happening right now and how you can help. At the bottom are an editorial and an op-ed further explaining why this is so important. Again, please pass this on to your friends and family.
If you are not sure who represents you, click here and enter your home address under “who represents me” to find your senator and representative and their phone number.
Texans for Advancement of Medical Research (TAMR) thanks you for making your voices heard — we had word that the majority of calls coming in to the offices were in support of research.
We also appreciate your passing these emails on to others. (If you are not receiving TAMR’s alerts, sign up here to be an advocate.)
Unfortunately, the budget bill, SB1, passed with the rider still attached. Five senators, Kirk Watson, Eliot Shapleigh, Mario Gallegos, Rodney Ellis and Wendy Davis had the courage to vote against the bill that carried this destructive rider.
What happens next?
The House will act on its own budget bill, HB1. Then, both bills go to a Conference Committee with 5 people chosen from each of the committees that heard the bill. These 10 people will decide whether the rider becomes part of the budget for the next two years.
Finance chair, Steve Ogden changed his rider that will go before the committee to read:
Sec. 17.13 No Destruction of Human Embryos for Research Purposes. Until legislation is passed by the Texas Legislature and becomes law authorizing and regulating embryonic stem cell research, no funds appropriated under this Act shall be used to directly fund research, which involves the destruction of a human embryo.
This is not acceptable.
Even if the budget bill is stripped of the rider, we still have to deal with Ogden’s bill SB 1695, co-authored by Dan Patrick and Jane Nelson, that prohibits the use of state money for research involving destruction of human embryos. This is written broader than the rider to the budget and would end all embryonic stem cell and IVF research in any of the laboratories of our state and private universities (because all receive state funding.)
SB 1695 reads:
A person may not use state money or a facility owned, leased, or managed by a state agency, department or office for research involving the destruction of human embryos, including embryonic stem cell research, or to support research involving the destruction of human embryos.
So, the bottom line is:
We need you to keep up the good work and watch your email for alerts, as your help is certain to be needed over the next few weeks.
If you have not had the opportunity to make these three calls, please do so with this message:
“I want you to understand the importance of stem cell research, and the impact it will have on Texas if it is banned–for the institutions, researchers, patients, and the economy. I am asking you not to let a ban on embryonic stem cell research or the funding for it happen in Texas, either in a stand-alone bill like SB 1695 which has been filed, but has not yet been heard in committee, or in the budget for the state.”
Call: Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst (512) 463- 0001 (He will appoint 5 Senate members to the Conference Committee for the budget, where the rider that bans hESC will be stripped or retained.
Call: Speaker of the House Joe Straus (512) 463-0686 He will appoint 5 House members to the Conference Committee for the budget, where the rider that bans hESC will be stripped or retained.
Call: Rep. Jim Pitts (512) 463-0516 Chair of House Appropriations
Call: Rep. Leo Berman (512) 463-0584 District 6 or Rep. Tommy Merritt (512) 463-0750 District 7
If you missed the recent editorial from Houston Chronicle or the op-ed from Bernard Weinstein, economist, please read them below. I think you will find them interesting.
Stealth legislating: Vote down ban on state funding for stem cell research
By injecting an amendment into the Texas Senate budget bill to ban state funding for stem cell research that involves the destruction of a human embryo, Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, has provided a textbook example of how powerful elected officials can end-run democratic processes to suit their own ideological agendas.
Passed with scant discussion by Ogdens committee 6-5, the budget bill includes a rider that if allowed to become law, will inflict serious damage to efforts to boost regenerative medicine research in Texas, particularly at state institutions, including the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.
Proponents of the stem cell funding ban have failed to pass bills in previous legislative sessions, as lawmakers from both parties have opposed it. Republican House members Beverly Woolley of Houston and Rick Hardcastle of Vernon are among the key supporters of responsible stem cell research, as is U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Now that the administration of President Barack Obama is dismantling federal barriers to expanded fetal stem cell use, new state funding restrictions would drive talent and research dollars to other states.
An open letter to legislators from pre-eminent members of the states scientific community contends that the ban would halt ongoing research projects and negatively impact the ability of the Texas academic health institutions, both public and private, to competitively recruit and retain world-class scientists, professors and medical students in the biological sciences. They contend that since private funding is almost never available for early-stage biomedical research, a ban such as this would effectively stifle this research in Texas. The letter is signed by researchers from Baylor College of Medicine, the UT Health System and Rice, as well as two Nobel Laureates and a former presidential science adviser.
Bernard L. Weinstein, who directs the Center for Economic Development and Research at the University of North Texas at Denton, says the ban would run counter to a campaign by Gov. Rick Perry to boost the Texas biotech industries. It would cost the state billions of dollars in economic activity while undermining Texas image as a hospitable environment for research.
State Rep. Ellen Cohen, a Democrat whose district includes the Texas Medical Center, says the amendment was passed with no public debate or input from the thousands of doctors, researchers and medical professionals responsible for extending so many lives I cannot stand by silently when the voices of so many responsible for so much good are not even heard.
Ogdens amendment is no minor technical measure inserted for some hometown special interests. It is an attack on the viability of a vital sector of the state economy and upon the well-being of future thousands of desperately ill Texans who could benefit from the cures resulting from stem cell advances.
Late Wednesday the Senate passed the budget, including Ogdens amendment, by a vote of 26-5. Before the vote, he explained that his intent was not to ban all such research but to keep state money from being used directly for research involving the destruction of a human embryo. Whatever his stated intent, more progressive members should strike the ban when the budget reaches conference committee.
While claiming the moral high ground in defense of fertility clinic embryos that are routinely discarded, Ogden used the amendment route rather than relying on his own bill with similar wording that would have faced public hearings and an up-and-down vote by colleagues.
This issue is far too important to be decided by a back-room legislative maneuver. It is now up to responsible lawmakers in the Texas Senate and House to counter Ogdens power play and approve a budget that does not undermine the ability of our medical institutions to participate in the renewed national effort to advance a promising field of medical research.
Proposed Restrictions on Stem Cell Funding May Kill Texas’ Emerging Biotechnology Industry
By Bernard L. Weinstein*
Recent scientific advances have caused tremendous excitement in the burgeoning field of regenerative medicine, which focuses on developing therapies to restore or replace damaged cells and tissues in the human body. Stem cell research has proven to be one of the most promising areas of research, offering the opportunity to revolutionize medical treatment, drug development and biomedical research.
From heart disease and diabetes, to Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries, stem cell research in its many forms-including embryonic stem cell research-holds the key that could potentially unlock the secrets to treatments and cures that have long eluded patients suffering from some of the most devastating diseases.
Unlike Texas, many other states are making strong commitments to stem cell research, not only to improve public health but also to capitalize on its economic development potential. Institutions in California, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Wisconsin have been the leaders in this field, in part because of state laws that ensure the legality of embryonic stem cell research. By contrast, the Texas Senate Finance Committee has just reported out a budget bill for the next biennium that would prohibit the use of any state funds for embryonic stem cell research, even as restrictions on federal funding for such research have been removed.
An even greater irony is that Governor Rick Perry has targeted the biosciences as a growth sector for the Texas economy. (emphasis added, dr) Texas currently possesses a biotechnology industry comprised of about 950 private companies as well as world-class universities and research facilities and the largest medical center in the world. But putting legislative restrictions on stem cell research runs the risk of damaging the entire biotech sector, as serious researchers are likely to locate in states with more accommodating political climates. The potential economic and humanitarian losses could be huge.
Texas currently accounts for only 2.9 percent of the nation’s biotechnology industry compared with almost 8 percent of its gross domestic product. Just increasing our share to the national average would contribute an additional $87.4 billion to state economic activity and support over 230,000 direct, indirect, and induced jobs paying more than $12.8 billion in salaries and wages. State and local tax receipts would be boosted by more than $8 billion annually.
The fruits of stem cell research also promise to reduce the financial burden of treating serious diseases such as stroke, type 1 diabetes, Parkinson ‘s disease, and spinal cord injuries. Currently, the cost of treating Texans with these ailments is nearly $14 billion a year. Reducing these costs by as little as one percent would save almost $140 million each year. Over a thirty-year period, these cost reductions would sum to $4.2 billion. Savings would also be achieved in the state’s Medicaid program.
If Texas is to be a leader in the biosciences, with all the anticipated health and economic benefits that will follow, the state must maintain a hospitable environment for research and development. At a minimum, Texas needs to be known as a “safe haven” for medical research, including embryonic stem cells. Indeed, if we’re serious about becoming a major player in the global bioscience arena, we should be allocating-not prohibiting-state funding for such research.
*Weinstein is director of the Center for Economic Development and Research and a professor of applied economics at the University of North Texas in Denton. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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