Ron REAGAN: Stem Cells, Alzheimer's, and the Search for Hope
WebMD Live Events Transcript
Ron Reagan, the son of former president Ronald Reagan, joined WebMD to
discuss life when someone you love has Alzheimer's disease and his public push
for stem cell research. Our discussion took place on Sept. 22, 2004.
The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been
reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you
should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational
Welcome to WebMD Live, Ron. You've become perhaps the most visible spokesperson
for embryonic stem cell research. What lead you to become an advocate for this
type of research?
Well, I may be the most visible spokesperson at the moment, but hardly the most
expert. I became interested in embryonic stem cell research almost immediately
after I first heard about it, which is likely to have been sometime in 1998 when
stem cells were first isolated. It seemed to me to be an avenue of research that
held enormous promise, and as such it was immediately intriguing.
What about this kind of research do you think sparks such controversy?
Two words: embryonic and cloning. There are people who, when they hear the word
embryo, think fetus, and there are people who, when they hear the word cloning,
think armies of little Adolph Hitlers. Embryonic stem cell research does not
require the destruction of fetuses. Nor does it actually require the creation of
cloned human beings.
There are people who have moral objections that are based on religious
grounds. There is no point in arguing with religious beliefs. They are entitled
to them, but that doesn't mean that the rest of us should have to forego a
potentially revolutionary medical breakthrough.
Let's clear up a misconception. You've been taken to task for supposedly linking
stem cell research with a cure for Alzheimer's disease. Have you ever made that
Why do you think this accusation has been hurled at you?
I think there is a desire, on the part of some, to discredit those who are in
favor of embryonic stem cell research, and to that end they will erect "straw
men." No one I've ever spoken to who is involved in this field has made the
claim, to me at least, that embryonic stem cell therapy would, in the near term,
address the problem of Alzheimer's disease.
So it really has been stem cell research opponents and the media that has made
this connection, not you or your mother?
True. The media, in an effort to appear fair and balanced, as some people would
put it, often gives equal weight to both sides of an argument, instead of
determining which side of the argument is more valid. I would call that
dereliction of their journalistic duty.
So what do you hope can be accomplished by allowing federal funding of embryonic
stem cell research?
Federal funding will kick start the research in a big way and federal dollars
will bring in private dollars. Hopefully, within a few years we can then go
about the business of employing embryonic stem cells to save people's lives.
From the researchers you've talked to, what are the most promising avenues of
Parkinson's disease, diabetes, lymphoma, as well as conditions such as spinal
cord injuries and severe burns. I've been told by people involved in the field
that with federal funding we might see a cure for Parkinson's disease in five
Do you think that the federal dollars will remove some of the stigma and make
this research more widely accepted?
The research is already widely accepted by the American public. Most polls
indicate that somewhere around three-quarters of Americans favor embryonic stem
cell research, and support for such research is even more widespread abroad. But
to some extent, it is true that the imprimatur of the U.S. government will be
What do the experts think is the time frame for any actual patient benefit?
From what I've heard, we could begin seeing benefits in around five years.
How does stem cell research have an effect on diabetes today?
Right now the effect of stem cell research on patients with diabetes is to give
them hope that one day they will no longer have to inject themselves with
insulin, no longer have to measure their blood levels, that they can live a free
and unencumbered life. Hopefully, within a few years stem cell therapy will
offer them the reality of a cure.