Donald Trump And The Great Stem Cell Decision

I do not think President-elect Donald Trump has his mind completely made up on the subject of stem cell research. Certainly I cannot find any quotes from him opposing the research.

But if the President-Elect chooses representative Andrew Harris (R-MD) as Director of the National Institutes of Health, that will signify an irrevocable decision. The President-elect will have boxed himself in as an opponent not only of stem cell research supporters, but also the one in five Americans with a disability--and we, their families, who dream of cure.

Families like mine.

My paralyzed son Roman Reed's name is on state legislation which funded the first embryonic stem cell research therapy in the nation: The Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act of 1999. "Roman's Law" funded Dr. Hans Keirstead's famous method of using embryonic stem cells to "re-insulate" damaged spinal cord nerves, currently in human trials.

In California, voters backed a $6 billion stem cell program, which has led to therapies in clinical trials for blindness, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, cancer and much more.

We felt so strongly about protecting our research that we established protections for it in the California State Constitution.

This was done precisely because of political ideologues like Representative Harris, a determined enemy of the research California supports. In public and behind the scenes, Harris has worked against embryonic stem cell research since 2005, when he tried (unsuccessfully) to kill a stem cell program for his own home state of Maryland. But that was not the end of his attacks.

Harris co-sponsored a "personhood" bill, House Resolution 816, which defined every fertilized egg as a person with rights under law. Bear in mind a fertilized egg is essentially liquid, often shed unnoticed in a woman's monthly cycle. Yet personhood bills would criminalize embryonic stem cell research.

It was almost certainly Harris who manipulated the 21st Century Cures Act so that its funds were limited to the less effective adult stem cells, with zero funding allowed for the far more powerful embryonic.

President-Elect Trump might wish to consider retaining the services of Francis Collins, the current Director of the National Institutes of Health. A born-again Christian, Dr. Collins is a moderate, not a boat-rocker. But he is also pro-stem cell.

Dr. Collins is strongly supported by such key Republicans as Lamar Alexander, Chairman, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; Roy Blunt, Chairman, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services; Fred Upton, Chairman, House Committee on Energy and Commerce; and Tom Cole, Chairman, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.

On December 2, 2016, these Republican leaders sent an open letter to President-elect Trump, recommending the retention of Dr. Collins, saying:

"Dr. Collins is the right person, at the right time, to continue to lead the world's premier biomedical research agency. He possesses all the attributes one should have as the Director of the National Institutes of Health--intellectual prowess, renowned scientific experience, and outstanding leadership skills. We are confident that under his leadership and with Congress' commitment to biomedical research as a national priority, the National Institutes of Health will thrive and continue to enhance the Nation's health through scientific discovery and biomedical research."

Selecting Francis Collins as NIH Director puts the President on the side of science.

But for all who hope for a positive stem cell policy, hiring Andrew Harris would be an absolute deal-breaker.

Don C. Reed is the author of "STEM CELL BATTLES: Proposition 71 and Beyond: How Ordinary People Can Fight Back Against the Crushing Burden of Chronic Disease", World Scientific Publishing, Inc.