CHICAGO – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich was joined today by Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn and Comptroller Dan Hynes for a tour of Children’s Memorial Research Center’s (CMRC) state of the art stem cell research facility, where president and scientific director Mary J.C. Hendrix, PhD, and investigators are doing cancer research on federally approved embryonic stem cell lines. The state leaders also met six scientists from around the country, including Columbia University Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, who are visiting Dr. Hendrix’s lab to be trained through a National Cancer Institute grant in tumor stem cell technology. The three statewide officials, along with Secretary of State Jesse White and Attorney General Lisa Madigan, are pushing for passage of the Governor’s proposal to provide $100 million in state grants for stem cell research over the next five years.
“Stem cell research, like the work being done right here at Children’s Memorial, has shown some of the most promising potential in scientists’ efforts to develop effective treatments and cures for devastating diseases – from Parkinson’s to diabetes, and even cancer. I am proud to work with other state leaders like Lieutenant Governor Quinn, Secretary of State White, Comptroller Hynes and Attorney General Madigan to support this research in Illinois. Investing in research that can save lives and prevent serious illnesses is more than a sound public health strategy, it’s our moral obligation,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
Last summer, Governor Blagojevich and Comptroller Dan Hynes made Illinois the first state in the Midwest, and only the fourth state in the nation, to commit public funds to the life-saving work of stem cell research. The Governor signed an Executive Order directing the Illinois Department of Public Health to create a program that will award $10 million in grants to medical research facilities for the development of treatments and cures.
As part of his budget plan for next fiscal year, Governor Blagojevich proposed providing $100 million in grants over the next five years to continue the research. On Friday, Gov. Blagojevich, Lt. Governor Quinn, Attorney General Madigan, Secretary of State White and Comptroller Hynes sent a letter to the four legislative leaders urging them to support the funding proposal for stem cell research.
“The proposed stem cell research funding would allow Illinois to rise to the position of national leadership in research and to continue to attract world-renowned researchers and physicians,” said Mary J.C. Hendrix, PhD, CMRC president and scientific director. “At perhaps no other time in history has the scientific community been better positioned to advance the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. We have an obligation to promote the best medical science for all Illinois citizens who will reap the benefits of our scientific expertise.”
“This proposal deserves support for many reasons. It utilizes tobacco company dollars, not taxpayer dollars. It cements Illinois’ position as the Midwest center of stem cell research, which will result in huge new investment in the state. And, most importantly, it will lead to the development of revolutionary treatments for diseases that affect the families of each and every American,” said Comptroller Hynes.
“Investing in stem cell research in Illinois has the potential of saving thousands of lives now and in the future,” said Lt. Gov. Quinn.
“I commend Governor Blagojevich for recognizing the value of stem cell research and committing state support to fund work that has the potential to both save lives and significantly improve the quality of life for people with chronic diseases,” Secretary White added.
“Stem cell research is critical in finding cures to diseases that have taken too many lives already. I am pleased that Illinois is poised to become a leader in the fight against these illnesses,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said.
The Governor’s Executive Order creating the Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute (IRMI) dictated that the program will provide funding for stem cell research that involves adult, cord blood and embryonic stem cells. Medical and scientific accountability standards and rules will generally be consistent with those issued by the National Academies of Sciences and the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Public Health will issue an annual report that details IRMI’s operation.
The Executive Order also mandated that no funding will be authorized for research involving human cloning, nor will funding be awarded to anyone who purchases or sells embryonic or fetal tissue for research purposes, and time limits will be set for extracting cells from blastocysts.
Stem cells are cells that have the potential to develop into many different types of healthy new cells in the body. As described by the National Institutes of Health, they act like an internal repair system for the body. Stem cells can divide to replenish other cells for as long as the body is alive. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential to either remain a stem cell or become another type of cell like a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell.
Studying stem cells allows doctors to try to analyze how cells transform into other cells. Many of the most serious illnesses or birth defects are caused by problems in this process. So, understanding the process better may help doctors discover how to prevent, treat or cure illnesses and conditions. Stem cells could also offer the possibility of making replacement cells and tissues to treat various diseases and conditions including Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. A better understanding of the process may help doctors discover how to prevent, treat or cure illnesses.
Children’s Memorial Research Center is one of a few research institutions in the country devoted solely to children. Its investigators are faculty members at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Work at the CMRC is organized around seven interdisciplinary research programs: Cancer Biology and Epigenomics, the Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Research Program, Developmental Biology, Experimental Therapeutics, Human Molecular Genetics, Molecular and Cellular Pathobiology, and Neurobiology.