One of the most influential aspects of First Lady Nancy Reagan's life was the powerful impact of her endorsement of stem cell research. When Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, after his presidency, Mrs. Reagan moved into action, researching everything she could about the debilitating disease and ways to help her husband.
“Ronnie’s long journey has finally taken him to a distant place—where I can no longer reach him. We can’t share the wonderful memories of our fifty-two years together, and I think that’s probably the hardest part. Because of this, I’m determined to do what I can to save other families from this pain,” she said in 2004. Reagan passed away in 2006.
Despite opposition from leaders in her own Republican Party, Nancy devoted the rest of her life to advancing stem cell research. It is a legacy that will long be remembered.
According to the National Institutes of Health, stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth. In addition, in many tissues they serve as a sort of internal repair system, dividing essentially without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person or animal is still alive. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential either to remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell.
Robert Klein was the author of California's 2004 Prop 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative. Mrs. Reagan lent Klein her powerful voice and belief. Klein served for the first seven years as the Chairman of the resulting California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, the agency created by Prop 71 to disperse most effectively the $3 billion fund his new law provided for stem cell research.
“…Now science has presented us with a hope called stem cell research, which may provide our scientists with many answers that have for so long been beyond our grasp,” Nancy said. “I don’t see how we can turn our backs on this. There are so many diseases that can be cured or at least helped. We’ve lost so much time already. I can’t bear to lose any more.”
Wikipedia's description of the stem cell revolution that Prop 71 underwrote states:
Proposition 71 represents a response to the federal policy (parenthetical note: instituted by President George H. W. Bush against permitting research on stem cells other than the few lines of embryonic cells already available). The idea for this proposition came about after the California legislature blocked a billion-dollar measure to fund stem cell research. Robert N. Klein II, a real-estate developer from Palo Alto, whose son suffers from diabetes and whose mother has Alzheimer's, became the leader of the campaign effort to pass Proposition 71, and spent three million dollars of his own money in the campaign.
For that effort and its success, Mr. Klein was named to Time Magazine's “100 of the Most Influential People for 2005.”
In 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order repealing the Bush-era policy that limited federal tax dollars for embryonic stem cell research.
The move overturned an order signed by President Bush in 2001 that barred the National Institutes of Health from funding research on embryonic stem cells beyond using 60 cell lines that existed at that time.
Obama also signed a presidential memorandum establishing greater independence for federal science policies and programs. Mrs. Reagan was present for the signing.
Klein will be in Washington, DC this week to affirm and delineate the crucial role of the late First Lady in achieving the vast electoral victory of Prop 71 and igniting the research which he feels will soon change medicine and health forever.
“She was a true champion of stem cell research,” Klein said.