Nancy Reagan leaves legacy with local stem cell research

Stem cell research

Rochester, N.Y. - Nancy Reagan's funeral will be held Friday, and among those remembering her are some researchers in Rochester. Medical discoveries that would not have been possible when the Reagans were in the White House are happening here today because of a stand the former first lady took.

The work is being done in a research lab at U.R. Medicine. Mrs. Reagan never set foot there, but she still has a local legacy.

At U.R. Medicine's tissue research lab, researchers are working with stem cells to find new treatments for spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's and cancer.

"We can take the cells from your skin and, with a couple of genetic tricks, turn them into any cell type in your body and study them in the lab in order to discover drugs that might treat a heart conditionit has changed the nature of science," said Dr. Mark Noble of U.R. Medicine.

After President Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1994, Mrs. Reagan not only raised millions of dollars for research. She also advocated lifting restrictions on research using embryonic stem cells.

"She realized that this had tremendous promise for changing the game - not just for Alzheimer's, but for all medicine," said Dr. Noble. "And she decided to throw her weight behind it."

20 years ago, there were many misconceptions about where the cells came from, how they were harvested and how they might be used - or misused.

"She was quite willing to let facts be more important than ideology," said Dr. Noble. "(She was) one of many people involved in these discussions, but because her voice came from the conservative side of the political spectrum, it was an extraordinarily useful contribution."

While adult stem cells have limited use, embryonic stem cells do not.

Researchers at U.R. Medicine are also working on new treatments for Alzheimer's.

13WHAM will be streaming Nancy Reagan's funeral live on beginning a 2 p.m. Friday.

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