Last November, California voters easily passed Proposition 71, which provides $3 billion in state grants for embryonic stem cell research. Jews supported Proposition 71 in much higher numbers than most voters.
Two of the initiative's primary backers, Robert Klein and film producer Jerry Zucker ("Airplane," "Ghost" and "First Knight"), are Jewish. Klein has become head of the committee overseeing the new California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which will award Proposition 71 funds. Zucker has more or less returned to the sidelines. He talked to The Journal about his role in Proposition 71 and the politics and science of stem cells.
Under a microscope in a research lab at the Technion's Rappaport Faculty of Medicine in Haifa, a colony of embryonic stem cells floats in a brilliant ochre-colored universe of fetal mouse tissue, which nourishes the cells. Years from now, this tiny sample could very well be a key to unlocking the cure for cancer or reversing the effects of Alzheimer's and paralysis.
It would come as no surprise to experts in the field if some of these cures emanate from the laboratories of Israeli scientists, such as Dr. Joseph Itskovitz-Eldor.
Imagine a disease that strips a child of the routine autonomic and sensory abilities that we take for granted. A disease that affects a child's nervous system to such a degree that he or she cannot feel pain or produce tears, even when seriously wounded. The child becomes plagued with developmental delays, both physical and cognitive, and must be fed through gastric tubes to prevent inhaling food through the windpipe instead of down the esophagus. He or she experiences severe vision problems, breathing episodes, seizures, an absence of taste, cyclical vomiting, unstable blood pressure, fainting spells, excessive sweating, skin blotching and other abnormalities. The child also incurs numerous hospital stays, frequent surgeries and enormous medical bills. Worst of all, the disease statistically guarantees that the child will not live to see his or her preteens.
Is our national health care system beyond cure? Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Dr. Alexandra M. Levine, medical director of the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital, believe that the Jewish community can take a role in advancing remedies for our nation's health care ills.