Stem Cell Research
Embryonic stem cells have the unique ability to develop into almost any type of cell or tissue in the body. Researchers are hopeful that research using these cells may offer unprecedented opportunities to treat a wide range of medical conditions for which there are few or no cures, including Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
On August 9, 2001, then President Bush announced that he would limit government funding for research to the embryonic stem cell lines that already existed at the time of his announcement. Over the last eight years, leading scientists and researchers have contended that this policy would not allow them to fully realize the life-saving potential of stem cells due to concerns about the quality, longevity, and availability of the eligible embryonic stem cell lines.
On March 9, 2009 President Obama issued an executive order to rescind President Bush’s restrictions on funding for human embryonic stem cell research. The executive order also directed the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to issue new guidelines related to embryonic stem cell research. On July 6, 2009, the NIH published its final guidelines detailing the requirements to receive federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
During the last session of Congress, I sponsored the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (S. 5), legislation that would have allowed for federally-funded research on stem cell lines from excess embryos that were originally created for fertility treatments, were willingly donated by patients, and would otherwise be discarded. This legislation also included a provision that supported the advancement of alternative forms of stem cell research. This legislation passed both the Senate and House with broad bipartisan support in 2006 and 2007. Despite strong support from hundreds of leading medical and scientific associations and research universities, and dozens of patient-advocacy organizations representing millions of Americans, this legislation was twice vetoed by President Bush.
Medical Research Funding
Throughout my career in the Senate, I have supported increased funding for life-saving medical research. While I am proud that we have doubled our national medical research budget at the National Institutes of Health over the five year period of 1998 to 2003, I am particularly disappointed about spending proposals in recent years that would reverse this trend. We need to continue to invest in medical research that will lead to immeasurable contributions in the fight against a number of serious illnesses, including cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's. At a time when we are the verge of major new breakthroughs and the burden of chronic disease continues to grow, we should not shortchange a priority as important as promising medical research.
Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act
I introduced legislation, which is now law (P.L. 110-354), that will establish a national strategy to study the potential links between the environment and breast cancer and would authorize funding for such research. The resulting discoveries could be critical to improving our knowledge of this complex illness, which could lead to new treatments and perhaps, one day, a cure.
ALS Registry Act
I am the author of legislation, that is now law (P.L 110-373), that will create an ALS registry at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A national registry will help arm our nation’s researchers and clinicians with the tools and information they need to make progress in the fight against ALS. The data made available by a registry will potentially allow scientists to identify causes of the disease, and maybe even lead to the discovery of new treatments, a cure, or even a way to prevent the disease in the first place. .
Inflammatory Bowel Disease Research Act
Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease, are chronic disorders of the gastrointestinal tract that represent a major cause of morbidity from digestive illness and have a devastating impact on patients and families. I am the author of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Research Act (S. 1398), which will expand federal research on IBD and direct the Centers for Disease Control to provide a comprehensive approach to addressing the burden of this debilitating disease in the United States. By increasing our investment in these areas, my bill will offer hope to millions of Americans who suffer from IBD and save millions of dollars in net health care expenditures through reduced hospitalizations and surgeries.
Fallon Cancer Cluster
In April 2001, I brought the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee Fallon, Nevada for a field hearing. The purpose of this hearing was to investigate why a number of children in this small community had been diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
In response to the Fallon hearing, I introduced legislation to establish a national network to track and correlate chronic diseases and environmental exposure. The bill would also create a public health rapid response capability to help small communities like Fallon respond to high incidences of disease. The lack of such a tracking and response system was a focal point of testimony at the hearing.
This bill, the Coordinated Environmental Health Network Act (S. 2082), will help put in place a system to finding answers to these horrible questions and to preventing public health crises before they occur. I have also worked to secure over $100 million for a number of states, including Nevada, to begin the process of establishing tracking and response programs called for in this legislation.
Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Act.
Each year, over 12,000 American children are diagnosed with cancer, and more than 2,000 of them end up succumbing to this devastating disease. I cosponsored legislation, that is now law (P.L. 110-285), that expands research programs aimed at preventing childhood cancer. It also creates a national registry to track pediatric cancer, thereby allowing researchers to contact patients quickly, enroll them in research studies, and follow up with them over time. This legislation will deliver much needed hope and support to children and their families who are battling cancer, and more resources for crucial pediatric cancer research programs.