World Congress

for freedom of scientific research

"Stem cell is serious science" by Barbara Forrest

07/28/2009

We hereby copy a two-part article by Barbara Forrest, Department of HiNews & Political Science, Southeastern Louisiana University, USA. Prof. Forrest took part in the second meeting of the World Congress for Freedom of Scientific Research. In this article she shares her personal experience of that event and people she met in Brussels, mainly Prof. Cattaneo and Charles Sabine, but first of all she endorses their campaign for freedom of scientific research and cure. In the second part of her article prof. Forrest makes a point about the fact that her state of Louisiana outlawed the public funding of stem cell research. On line version, part 1 Daily Star, Hammond, LA Tuesday July 28, 2009 "STEM CELL IS SERIOUS SCIENCE" By Dr. Barbara Forrest, Ph.D. (EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a two-part series by university professor Barbara Forrest.) One of the responsibilities of being a professor is traveling to share my work with other scholars. In March, I attended the Second World Congress for Freedom of Scientific Research in Brussels. The Belgian people and the food were wonderful. But since the Congress funded my trip, I was there to deliver a presentation and listen to presentations by scientists and other scholars. The Congress met in the European Parliament Building — complete with translators, just like the UN. It was sponsored by the Luca Coscioni Association, whose founder died after suffering for ten years from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.�? Since one of my most respected friends and colleagues, a brilliant law professor, is dying of ALS, I also had a personal interest in attending. The LCA’s work promoting freedom of scientific research and the rights of ill and disabled people has been endorsed by 96 Nobel Laureates. (I met two Nobel Prize winners.) Disabled people attended the sessions, which were open to the public. We learned about promising research by scientists from around the world, but the topic of stem cell research dominated the meeting. The fact that this was the chief subject of discussion by some of the world’s leading scientists was powerful evidence of the importance of this research. I met some im-pressive people, but two stood out: Elena Cattaneo, a neuroscientist at the University of Milan in Italy, and Charles Sabine, an NBC news correspondent from London. Dr. Cattaneo does stem cell research, and Sabine will one day die from the disease she studies. He is using whatever healthy years he has left trying to help her convince the Italian government to fund embryonic stem cell research. He doesn’t know when the disease will strike him. Any progress he helps bring about for others will come too late to save himself. Dr. Cattaneo does research on Huntingdon’s Disease, a genetic disorder that disables and kills victims in their prime adult years. By coincidence, I had read her article “Science, Dogmas, and the State�? in the journal *Nature*, and here I was sitting next to her on the bus and at lunch, where she told me her personal News. Unable to get funding from the Italian government, she relies on the European Union and private sources such as the Huntington’s Disease Society of America. She was targeted by a vicious campaign to discredit her in her own country after she organized a workshop on stem cell research, as her professional position required. Although she is Catholic and attends mass weekly, her integrity as a scientist and teacher was attacked by the Catholic Religious Right and some of her own university colleagues. Although stem cell research is legal in Italy, the Vatican opposes it and exercises strong influence. Italian politicians, unwilling to defend the science that might one day save their own loved ones, refuse to fund the research. In her article, Dr. Cattaneo wrote that “some members of the Catholic church hierarchies still claim that research on embryonic stem cells is unnecessary. . . . Other parts of the Catholic political milieu have incorrectly stated that scientists working on embryonic stem cells in Italy are acting against the law. And I have myself been depicted in the media as a bad scientist and teacher and worse.�? Because of the Vatican’s influence, the government is excluding embryonic stem cell research from an eight-million-euro ($5,760,000) stem-cell biology fund. Dr. Cattaneo and two other scientists are challenging this in the courts at their personal expense. The situation in Italy is much like that in the United States under George Bush, who restricted public funding of stem cell research to a only few stem cell lines. No one should underestimate the seriousness with which Europeans view American science in the world of international research. At the opening of the March 6 Congress session, when LCA board member Marco Perduca delivered the news that President Obama had announced his intention to lift Bush’s executive order against public funding of stem cell research, the entire room erupted in applause. My next column will deal with Charles Sabine, a brave man who daily faces down the fear of inevitable disability and death.

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