Stem cell legislation holds promise for 18.2 million Americans with diabetes

The American Diabetes Association today strongly expressed its support for federal legislation that would accelerate stem cell research by easing existing restrictions and supporting research that uses embryonic stem cells. The Association has urged Members of the House of Representatives to vote in favor of H.R. 810, the "Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005" when it is expected to be considered on Tuesday.

"The American Diabetes Association is committed to finding a cure for diabetes, as well as to finding better treatment options for individuals with diabetes until a cure is available," said Lynn B. Nicholas, FACHE, Chief Executive Officer, American Diabetes Association. "Stem cell research holds much promise in the search for better treatment and for a cure for the more than 18 million Americans with diabetes. By expanding the number of stem cell lines that are eligible for federally funded research while also implementing strong ethical guidelines to improve federal oversight, H.R.810 not only provides hope to patients with type 1 diabetes but also for all Americans with diabetes who are in need of significantly improved treatment options. We urge Members of Congress to vote in favor of this legislation."

Although the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the country's leading research institution, the work it can carry out in the area of stem cell research is severely limited due to current federal policy. Federal regulations that President Bush announced in 2001 have restricted the number of human embryonic stem cell lines available for federally-funded research, and attempted usage of those lines has demonstrated that the number of adequate lines is even smaller than expected. A significant expansion in the number of available lines is necessary in order to fully reap the medical rewards of stem cell research.

Stem cell research allows scientists to better explore how to control and direct stem cells so they can grow into other cells, such as insulin-producing beta cells found in the pancreas. Creating new beta cells could mean a cure for type 1 diabetes as they would serve as a replenishable source of cells for islet cell transplantation. They could also provide a powerful tool for controlling type 2 diabetes.

While embryonic stem cell research has only taken place in the last decade, researchers have made several advances to demonstrate its potential for scientific progress, and they now understand pieces of the framework for how this research could benefit diabetes. Already, many of the genes involved in pancreatic development have been identified, and recent discoveries have allowed scientists to overcome the difficult task of getting stem cells to produce the necessary proteins -- in the correct sequence -- that will allow them to become insulin-producing islet cells.

"The current state of science around human embryonic stem cell research is at the very early stages in this country, in large part because of the current restrictions on federal funding," said Alan D. Cherrington, PHD, Chairman of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center and President of the American Diabetes Association. "Because of the benefit that stem cell research promises to hold for millions of Americans, the American Diabetes Association believes that such research should be allowed to accelerate and progress within the strict ethical guidelines put forward by H.R. 810."

Diabetes is one of this nation's most prevalent, debilitating, deadly and costly diseases. While 18.2 million Americans live with diabetes today, estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that one in three Americans born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime. In 2002, one in 10 healthcare dollars went towards diabetes care. The cost of diabetes in America in 2002 was at least $132 billion.

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