Missouri's Stem Cell Ballot Issue
A few days before her first birthday, Alana Cuddihee received an early death sentence.
"No cell in her body is able to produce a specific enzyme that every cell in her body needs to function normally," said her mother, Patti. "Untreated, the children who have the condition that Alana has, which is MPS-1 Hurler's, don't live beyond the age of 10."
Cuddihee turned to Missouri's doctors for help, but found her daughter's salvation in Minnesota.
"She underwent nine days of chemotherapy, and then she received her life-saving stem cells," said Cuddihee.
Many other types of cells can develop from stem cells. There are two types of stem cells, adult and embryonic.
Alana received stem cells from an umbilical cord, which are considered adult stem cells.
"Adult stem cells are cells which are found in all sorts of places, in babies and in adult humans, which are the immediate precursors of, say, a particular cell type or a particular tissue," explained MU researcher Michael Roberts. "Embryonic stem cells are derived from the part of the very early embryo that's going to become the fetus."
Alana's successful stem cell transplant made Patti a happy mother and a supporter of further stem cell research, which Missouri voters will decide this November.
Missouri's initiative protects a method of creating embryonic stem cells, a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer. Some researchers say patients don't have to have as much therapy with that process.
"The stem cells that are produced by somatic cell nuclear transfer are essentially the same thing, except the embryo is created not by the fusion of an egg with a sperm, but by the introduction of a cell from the patient into the egg, and then creating a small embryo from that," Roberts explained.
After this process, scientists can use the cell as an embryonic stem cell or implant it to create a clone of the patient. The initiative states that "no person may clone or attempt to clone a human being."
Opponents say that's deceptive.
"They say that no cloning happens on birth. And actually, cloning has actually happened. The cloning of the embryo has already happened," said Susan Klein of Missouri Right to Life. "So what they're doing is, they're cloning the embryo specifically so they can take the embryo and remove the stem cells from that embryo. When they do that, they kill the embryo. So cloning has already happened."
Cuddihee and other initiative supporters disagree, because, at the point where some say cloning begins, the cell is not an embryo because it hasn't been fertilized. They say it's just a cell.
The Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures collected at least 250,000 petition signatures to put the issue on the Nov. 7 ballot.