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 purposes only.

MODERATOR:
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?

REAGAN:
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.

MODERATOR:
What about this kind of research do you think sparks such controversy?

REAGAN:
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.

MODERATOR:
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 connection?

REAGAN:
Never have.

MODERATOR:
Why do you think this accusation has been hurled at you?

REAGAN:
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.

MODERATOR:
So it really has been stem cell research opponents and the media that has made this connection, not you or your mother?

REAGAN:
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.

MODERATOR:
So what do you hope can be accomplished by allowing federal funding of embryonic stem cell research?

REAGAN:
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.

MODERATOR:
From the researchers you've talked to, what are the most promising avenues of research?

REAGAN:
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 years.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Do you think that the federal dollars will remove some of the stigma and make this research more widely accepted?

REAGAN:
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 helpful.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What do the experts think is the time frame for any actual patient benefit?

REAGAN:
From what I've heard, we could begin seeing benefits in around five years.

MEMBER QUESTION:
How does stem cell research have an effect on diabetes today?

REAGAN:
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.




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