Democrats tout stem-cell research

A forum yesterday on the lack of federal funding for local stem-cell-research centers was peppered with political commentary by former Vice President Al Gore and campaign promises by gubernatorial candidate Christine Gregoire and congressional candidate Dave Ross.

Gore kicked off the hourlong forum at the Westin Hotel in Seattle with a story about the moral questioning prompted by the first test-tube babies. He said fears didn't subside until after "the individuals who benefited from the life-enhancing features of the new technologies pushed forward."

Gore likened the push for in vitro fertilization to the present battle to have stem-cell research accepted by the government.

Researchers from the University of Washington spoke to the nearly 60 people who attended the town-hall meeting. They explained to the audience how stem cells are created and the moral objections to their use, and they said things have gotten worse for scientists since President Bush took office.

In 2001, Bush said he would allow federal funding for research only on existing embryonic stem-cell lines, because the "life-and-death decision" had already been made. A "line" is all the progeny of stem cells from a particular embryo, propagated in tissue culture over the years. Bush said more than 60 such lines were available.

Republicans contend Democrats have exaggerated the impact of the Bush administration policy, arguing researchers have plenty of leeway to advance knowledge of stem cells without additional "lines" from new embryos.

Gore told audience members yesterday that with the election of Gregoire, Ross and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, stem-cell research could flourish.

"I hope that all of you understand how the state of Washington is perceived around the world," Gore said. "This is one of the gigantic job-producing engines of the future."

Gregoire said "life sciences" hold great promise for the state's economy.

"We can literally create thousands of jobs and revolutionize health care," Gregoire said. "We have the scientific leadership in this state."

After the meeting, Tom Birtley and his 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, said they were impressed with the information presented and the politicians' comments.

The Seattle man was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease three years ago; he said he's not confident that if the government loosened restrictions on stem-cell research a cure for the disease would be found.

"I'm just trying to get more involved," he said. "A single cell is such a profound mechanism."

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or