Hope for a cure: Sen. Hatch supports stem-cell research

Every day at 4:30 p.m., Tim Chambless calls his father.

The adjunct political science professor listens to his dad to see how much he remembers that day, and notices the frequency of accidental hang-ups.

Chambless’ 83-year-old father, Beauford “Bun” Chambless, has Parkinson’s dementia.

That’s why Chambless supports lawmakers such as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who spoke about the benefits of stem-cell research on Friday to open the Utah Museum of Natural History and the Genetic Science Learning Center’s exhibit “Stem Cells and You” on display at the museum.

Bun Chambless was diagnosed with the disease seven years ago, and now lives at the Texas State Veteran’s Home because he requires 24-hour care.

“There’s an irony here because on the days that his memory is more lucid, it’s more easy to become depressed. When his memory is a little more fuzzy, he seems to feel better that day,” Tim Chambless said.

As the phone noise gets louder because his father has less control over holding the phone, Chambless worries more and more that he’s going to lose the man earlier than he lost his great-aunts and great-uncles who lived well into their nineties. His father, who grew up during the Great Depression, fought in World War II and earned a doctorate in American history from Rice University, thanks to the GI Bill-and raised five children.

But he worries more about his children contracting the disease that currently afflicts 5 million Americans.

“These horrible diseases tend to leap generations, and statistically my two children may have a higher chance of contracting this, or maybe their children,” he said.

Hatch worries about children too, and that’s why he supports all types of stem-cell research-adult, umbilical and embryonic-because he believes researching it can help cure 100 million Americans who currently suffer from cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes and other diseases that come from the breakdown of human cells.

“While I applaud President Bush for keeping 12 lines open, they use mouse feeder cells, so anything that comes out of them, the FDA most likely won’t approve,” Hatch said.

The government needs to provide federal funding for more than the lines currently open, so researchers can use uncontaminated embryonic cells that contain only those from humans, Hatch said.

He is proposing bills in the Senate that would do this.

He is also proposing a bill that would stop any cloning and punish it with large fines and prison time.

Though Hatch supports stem-cell research, he does not support abortion. The fetuses he would like to see used are those utilized in the in-vitro fertilization process. According to Hatch, couples who conceive using the process usually have leftover embryos that will be thrown out after a certain period of time. Instead of simply throwing them out, he would like to see them used to develop cures for diseases.

He also wants to see that federal funding make its way into Utah. He mentioned U professor Mario Capecchi, who recently won the Lasker award, a precursor for the Nobel Prize, for his research in stem cells with mice. He said the recent vote in California to open up more stem-cell lines is tempting.

“I want to keep Dr. Capecchi and his young researchers in Utah. If the country doesn’t open up more lines, we may lose pre-eminence in biomedical research, and I don’t want to see American patients and scientists going abroad for the better research,” he said.

Hatch knows his stance on embryonic stem-cell research is controversial because of his staunch anti-abortion views, but he says it doesn’t conflict.

“I consulted the scriptures and got down on my knees and prayed, and the answer I got was that this is right. As a matter of law, a fetus or embryo is not constitutionally protected. Taking birth control is not a criminal act. In-vitro fertilization scientists are not considered mass murderers [when they throw out frozen, unused embryos],” he said.

He says “pro-life” means helping the living, and stem-cell research has the potential to do just that.

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