Jewish Journal

Stem Cell Success a Prop. 71 Boost?

by Idan Ivri

Posted on Oct. 28, 2004 at 8:00 pm

Researchers at the Technion Institute of Technology and Rambam Medical Center in Israel have transformed embryonic stem cells into heart cells. The big breakthrough: When they grafted those cells onto a damaged heart, they essentially worked as a biological pacemaker.

This development comes at an auspicious time for Californians deciding on our referenda here at home, as Proposition 71 represents a $3 billion bond to support California embryonic stem cell research. (The measure boasts significant support from Jewish organizations.)

Some Proposition 71 opponents have claimed that no research on embryonic stem cells has ever come to fruition and that the technology is too dangerous and unpromising. The Israeli development seems to contradict that.

Dr. David Gutterman, associate director of the Medical College of Wisconsin Cardiovascular Research Center, who is familiar with the Israeli development, said, "This could lead to a replacement of the mechanical pacemaker, which requires surgery to replace the battery every few years."

The Israeli research shows that rat heartbeats integrated the human "pacemaker cells" naturally, and that the cells actually regulated the rats' heartbeats.

"We have been working on embryonic stem cells since the year 2000," professor Lior Gepstein told The Journal. Demonstrating that the technology can actually work with a living heart took about two years, Gepstein said.

"This process may have future applications for the treatment of two very common heart diseases. One, abnormalities in the normal electrical activity of the heart resulting in slow heart rate and, two, heart failure due to significant loss of heart cells, such as occurs during a large heart attack," Gepstein explained.

He made clear that there are several obstacles to overcome before the process can become a clinical reality, including overcoming the body's tendency to reject grafted cells from another person, and the need for the lab to manufacture a far greater number of stem cells, which may take some years.

Santa Monica Election Surprise

Santa Monica City Council elections are scheduled on a big date -- Nov. 2. Still, they don't seem to be in danger of going unnoticed.

One newcomer from the Kennedy family and another old hand in Santa Monica politics are shaking up the race, stealing the thunder from the perennially politically powerful Santa Monica for Renter's Rights (SMRR) organization, which has helped numerous local candidates get elected on its affordable housing platform. SMRR has been pivotal in city politics for the past 25 years.

Bobby Shriver, nephew to President John F. Kennedy and brother-in-law to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, joined the race amid a battle between homeowners and the existing city government over the allowable height of hedges, of all issues (though as the chair of the State Recreation and Parks Commission, it wasn't the first meeting he'd had with the city).

"I was mad at the bullying that my neighbors and I had been subjected to, and I was also having fun meeting all my neighbors, so I decided to run," Shriver said.

He told The Journal that as councilmember he would focus intently on the problem of homelessness in Santa Monica.

"What we need to do is get permanent supported housing for [the homeless] and I think the big empty buildings in Westwood on the VA grounds should be made into that type of housing."

Shriver has raised more than $100,000, far more than any other candidate, in a campaign that limits per-person contributions to $250. Famous names appearing on his list of donors include David Geffen, Southern California ACLU Executive Director Ramona Ripston, Michael Ovitz and Sheryl Sandberg, vice-president of global online sales and operations at Google.

In the meantime, another candidate snubbed this year by the SMRR is the Green Party's Michael Feinstein (also a former Santa Monica mayor), who said the organization's endorsements this year were more the result of an internal personality struggle.

Feinstein is focusing on quality-of-life issues and infrastructure, noting that the city will be re-examining its general plan in the near future.

"We want to increase the likelihood that people will live closer to where they work so that new development will improve the quality of life rather than being overwhelmed by traffic," Feinstein said.

"I've done traditionally well with Jewish seniors in town," he said. "I think that culturally I can certainly relate to the large Jewish community."

Jews Disagree With 'Total War'

With just a few days left in the national campaign, President Bush has clearly staked this election on his prosecution of the war on terror and the war in Iraq.

The nonpartisan American Jewish Committee's (AJC) 2004 Annual Survey, however, suggests that American Jews disagree with one of the President's central premises on this: That the two wars are actually part of the same struggle.

Forty-two percent of American Jews approve of the manner in which the administration is handling the war on terror. But when asked about Iraq, only 30 percent said they approve of that war. And only a minuscule 7 percent think that the Iraq war has made the United States safer from terrorism.

According to the AJC, the survey respondents were 1,000 demographically representative members of the United States adult Jewish population, reached by telephone.

"I don't think that poll really successfully polled the mainstream of the Jewish community," said Bruce Bialosky, California state chair for Jewish outreach for the Bush/Cheney campaign. "Any Jew who doesn't feel that the war in Iraq is part of the war on terror is either in denial or is just confused on the facts."

Bialosky justified Bush's combination of the wars by saying that although there may be locally minded insurgents in Iraq, they are clearly being utilized by global terrorist forces.

"It's easy for us to purport that the terrorists in Iraq have a different desire and emphasis than terrorists in Indonesia, but what's the difference? That's like saying there's a difference between those [terrorists] and the ones in Chechnya," Bialosky said. "They're all accomplishing the same thing and they're coming from the same means, and they're all being funded by the same sources."

Bialosky said that this war on terror actually began in 1972 with the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.

In other words, Bialosky linked secular dictator Saddam Hussein, religious terrorist Osama bin Laden, the nationalist guerrillas in Chechnya and the Palestinian killers at Munich to the same agenda and organization, and Bush today is fighting a war that he understands actually began 30 years ago.

Against criticisms that this oversimplifies the problem, the president and his campaign have repeatedly claimed that only the na?ve fail to see the truth behind this struggle.

Nevertheless, according to the 2004 AJC poll, the definition of an all-encompassing war seems to have been soundly rejected by American Jews.

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