February 24, 2024

Hollywood “disease activists” campaign for stem cell funding

 With the help of Hollywood glitterati whose children have diabetes, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International (JDRF) is lobbying hard to get California voters to authorise US$295 million a year for diabetes research over 10 years. "Not since AIDS activists stormed scientific meetings in the 1980s has a patient group done more to set the agenda of medical research," reports the Wall Street Journal. Because of limitations imposed by President Bush on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, the JDRF is going straight to the voters and bypassing the scrutiny of legislators. As the WSJ notes, California, the world’s sixth biggest economy, is the only state where "a scientific secession of this magnitude" could succeed.

Backed by the JDRF, a wealthy property developer and major Democratic campaign donor, Robert Klein, has launched a signature campaign to put plans for a US$3 billion bond issue on November’s ballot paper. Also involved are Douglas Wick, a producer of "Gladiator", Jerry Zucker, director of "Ghost", and his wife Janet, a producer. The campaign has the support of several top scientists, including the president of the California Institute of Technology, David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate. The JDRF gave the organisers of the ballot initiative $500,000 to secure the 700,000 signatures they need to qualify for the ballot.

Despite the heavy artillery, success is far from certain in a campaign which will probably cost US$20 million. Because the research involves cloning embryos, its supporters will face fierce opposition from religious groups. California’s new governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, may not back it. Voters also realise that "the land of fruits and nuts" is in financial crisis and may not feel that embryo research which may cost taxpapyers US$6 billion over 30 years is the way to avert financial meltdown.