We all thought it was a miracle when the Badgers beat Kentucky in the Final Four. Legislators – both Republican and Democrat – couldn’t wait to honor the University of Wisconsin basketball team. But, the real miracles are happening in the labs at UW, at the Weisman Center, at Research Park, and across Wisconsin. The same Republicans who clamored to have their picture taken with Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes are now advancing Assembly Bill 305, which would shut down biomedical research and destroy the miracles that will come in curing or treating devastating diseases.
Deadly, debilitating diseases don’t care if you’re liberal or conservative. The hyper-politicization of biomedical research threatens future life-saving medical advancements. We’ve all benefited, or will benefit at some point in our lives, from the advances reaped from this research. The polio vaccine is just one example of this. I for one want my loved ones to be able to access every possible option should they become ill and for scientists to rely on the best research avenues available.
Wisconsin has a long history of innovative research and is an internationally recognized leader in biomedical research. Since its inception, 11 UW faculty members have received the National Medal of Science Award, described as “the nation’s highest honor for achievement and leadership in science and technology.” Right here, James Thompson derived the first human embryonic stem cell line in 1998, and is credited with redefining biomedicine. The current climate in Wisconsin threatens to tarnish that reputation.
The University of Wisconsin attracts top researchers from all over the world, as well as undergraduate and graduate students who are drawn to the university because of its biomedical research. The UW is literally educating the next generation of scientists. We stand to lose some of the best current and future scientists in the world.
But this life-saving research isn’t just being done at the UW. It’s being done in private businesses across the state – bioscience accounts for over 100,000 private sector jobs and has an economic impact of $27 billion a year. It’s also being done at Madison College, which just received a $661,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for their stem cell technology and regenerative medicine program.
We need to treat our scientists as the heroes that they are rather than creating a climate that is not supportive of research. These individuals are entrusted with one of the most important objectives. Advances on treatment for end-stage breast cancer, cardiac disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, blindness, diabetes, asthma, and immune disorders, multiple sclerosis, and neurodegenerative diseases have all been made possible by biomedical research.
I’ve been a state representative for 4 years, and unlike some of my colleagues, it seems, I know when I need to listen to the experts. One such expert is Professor Alta Charo, a leading authority on bioethics who just happens to on the faculty at UW Law School and UW Medical School. Professor Charo had this to say in her recent article in the prominent New England Journal of Medicine: “We have a duty to “tak[e] advantage of avenues of hope for current and future patients…This attack represents a betrayal of the people whose lives could be saved by the research and a violation of that most fundamental duty of medicine and health policy, the duty of care.” And policy makers have the duty to advance policies that give hope to improving people’s lives, not bills like AB 305 that shut down lifesaving research that will save a sick child’s life.