After three days of being with a few hundred like-minded and energized folks at the World Stem Cell Summit in Florida, I was able to hop up the coast to D.C. for the annual meeting of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medicine, an event that I can usually only catch a piece of by phone. CAMR is the main organization that has fought to preserve our right to fund embryonic stem cell research and for the right of the National Institutes of Health to join us in funding that work..
The group has been instrumental in helping keep the work legal in most states. Its effort was also critical to the passage of legislation that would allow federal funding in 2005 and 2006. Unfortunately those bills were the subjects of two of President Bush’s first vetoes. But the coalition also worked to make sure Obama’s presidential order in March 2009, authorizing NIH funding for embryonic stem cell research, was one of the earliest executions of one of his campaign promises. We heard at the CAMR meeting that there are now 186 embryonic stem cell lines approved for NIH funding.
When the coalition was formed we did not expect to be spending time in litigation. (My former colleagues at Harvard helped found the group and I attended an early organizing meeting.) But when the Shelley vs. Sibelius case was filed in August 2009, we did file a brief, and have done so at each stage of this prolonged case. The CAMR board believes those briefs were influential because it was easier for us to say certain things than for the Justice Department to do so. The next key date in the case is January 4. That is the next chance for the Supreme Court to decide whether to hear it, though it may not decide then, or it could decide and not announce it at that time.
Status quo is holding on Capitol Hill. There was not any legislative activity last year and we heard today that none is expected this year unless the Supreme Court case goes the wrong way.
A member at the meeting observed, “At CAMR we always hoped we could get to the point where politics was no longer getting in the way of good science, and Sally Temple’s presentation today showed we are getting to that point. And I think CAMR has had a large role of getting us there.” (We did a short blog about that talk at the World Stem Cell Summit.)
That is at least in Washington.
Activity has moved to the states. David Chatel, of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society follows the issue at the state level for CAMR. The coalition has tracked legislation and ballot issue in 19 states in the past year. The CAMR board meets weekly to decide if action is needed at the state level. They took actions in two state sending letters to members of two legislatures: those in Virginia and Oklahoma.
CIRM is one of some 90 organizations that are members of the group ranging from major research universities to patient advocacy organizations like the Parkinson’s Action Network. I am proud to have been there at the beginning of the coalition that has certainly proven its worth over the years.