Proven cures for blindness using adult stem cells are already available, says a noted advocate for the blind. But these cures are being held back by politics and the use of stem cells as a wedge issue in election campaigns, she says. Helen J. Harris, founder and president of RP International in Los Angeles, says that even though the main controversy revolves around ethical use of embryonic stem cells, politics has infected the entire scientific field and has had a chilling effect on adult stem cell applications as well.

Acrimonious political campaigns have spread misunderstanding and discouraged funding of all stem cell research in the United States, says Ms. Harris. For example, she points to an adult stem cell transplant program at a Louisiana State University hospital that was quietly discontinued in the midst of public political rancor, even though it did not involve embryonic cells and had already led to a successful degenerative blindness cure back in 1984, according to Ms. Harris, who had been personally involved with the project.

Ms. Harris is herself blind, along with two of her sons, from retinitis pigmentosa. She started RP International more than 20 years ago and has raised million of dollars for blindness research, especially involving the Hollywood entertainment industry. Her organization\'s, annual Vision Awards honor celebrities, scientists and other notables for outstanding creativity. The 2006 Vision Awards in Beverly Hills took special note of adult stem cell research by honoring a patient who was able to regain sight thanks to the LSU technique after more than 20 years of blindness.

Dr. Gholam Peyman, the surgeon who had performed LSU\'s first successful sight-restoring surgery in New Orleans turned to Ms. Harris at the awards and said, \"Helen, had they listened to you and to me in 1984, we might have cured not only RP but all of these diseases by now. However, since so little was known about it, science was afraid to take the chance.\"

The chilling effect has not been limited to the LSU program, Ms. Harris says, but is a factor holding back research all around, including money that could go to adult stem cell applications. She cites the case of California where billions of dollars for stem cell research approved by the voters in a 2004 ballot initiative are still being held back by two major lawsuits against the state.

Ms. Harris announced today that her organization -- which is a leader in promoting education, research, and patient support -- will establish a new and separate, fund-raising campaign to aid development of adult stem cell treatments for blindness and other disorders. \"I\'d love to discuss with Michael J. Fox and others on all sides of this issue to find common ground and make sure programs like that at LSU get a chance to help millions afflicted by degenerative blindness along with other major disorders,\" says Ms. Harris.

RP International