President Donald Trump’s anti-choice policy known as expanded Global Gag Rule (GGR) no doubt impacts on reproductive health researches since its re-introduction in 2017.
It was Former US President, Ronald Reagan who in August 1984 announced what became known as “Mexico Policy”, directed the Agency for International Development (AID) to expand limitation of public funds for performance of abortion or to motivate or coerce anyone to practice abortion as a method of family planning to include providing advice, counselling or information regarding abortion or lobby a foreign government to legalise or make abortion available.
The anti-abortion policy equally affected providing funding support for embryonic stem cell research an aspect of regenerative medicine which provides therapy for degenerative health conditions.
Ironically, the former president ten years later was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and following his death, Nancy, his wife during some research came across stem cell therapy in Regenerative Medicine.
She discovered that embryonic stem cell therapy could have taken care of her husband’s condition. She subsequently became convinced about the promise of stem cell research in advancing benefits of regenerative medicine.
Nancy never kept quiet about her conviction. She openly supported increased stem-cell research and did all she could to convince the Bush administration about why the strict limitations on stem cell research should be lifted.
But her position was at variance to that of the ruling Republican government which was opposed to use of embryos for creation of human life even for research purposes.
Unlike stem cells from other parts of the body, embryonic stem cells differ two important ways. First, they can be induced to change, or differentiate, into virtually any cell type. Second, unlike somatic cells which have finite lifespans, embryonic stem cell can grow indefinitely in culture.
These two unique characteristics give embryonic stem cells enormous potential to medicine and science.
However, the world hasn’t seen it all as President Donald Trumps’ version of the expanded Global Gag Rule (GGR) further strengthens the Republican stand against embryonic stem cell research.His Presidential Memorandum signed on January 23, 2017 gave conditions on how US global health and family planning assistance is to be governed, restricts access to organizations promoting or performing abortion as a method of family planning among others. Researchers on reproductive health issues are already feeling the tweak.
When Reagan banned research on utilization of fetal tissue seeking potential cure for diseases, little did he realize he was establishing a legacy that Nancy, his wife and millions across the world would live to regret on his behalf.
Embryonic stem cells in regenerative medicine have potential for treating chronic diseases such as diabetes and are reputed to hold the key to curing degenerative neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. When transplanted into the body, embryonic stem cells have ability to multiply and transform into virtually any type of tissue.
Nevertheless, over the decades, Reagan’s death from Alzheimer’s disease energized further political debate over medical research on stem cells particularly those harvested from human embryos.
Researchers continued to engage in harvesting embryonic cells for developing therapies to take care of such debilitating diseases as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, sickle cell diseases and several other degenerative diseases.
But renowned scientists have been expressing concerns over the inability of research to continue delving into more areas of degenerative medicine as most of the research funds often rom donors have been stalled by Trump administration’s version of the GGR which even further tightens the noose on funding of embryonic stem cell research from 2018.
Speaking with Healthstyleplus Correspondent, Fertility expert and Medical Director, Nordica Fertility Centre, Dr Abayomi Ajayi said, “Harvesting cells from embryos in the early days of pregnancies to pro-lifers amounts to destroying life and the Republicans would have nothing of such hence the stifling of funds”.
“But this is debatable and much unrelated” argues renowned Forensic Pathologist and former Vice Chancellor, Lagos State University, LASU, Professor John Oladapo Obafunwa.
Both experts are nonetheless worried that on-going researches around use of embryonic stem cells as well as findings are likely to suffer major setbacks “especially among Nigerian scientists and medical experts who are handicapped by lack of government funding and have had to depend on foreign donors”.
Obafunwa and Ajayi, both agree, “Unless something is done to halt the policy, the scientific world on embryonic stem cell research in particular, would pay dearly”.
Obafunwa, told Healthstyleplus “Nigerian researchers especially in the area of stem cell therapies have often depended on some of the international donor bodies because of the short-sightedness of Nigerian government in setting aside research funds and wherein we are unable to get the needed support due to US Policy, we are simply stalled”, he lamented.
Prior to the re-introduction of the expanded Global Gag Rule (GGR) in 2017, American researchers and their counterparts at Explore Stem Cells, UK organisation, in 2015 told Science News, they got breakthrough in using embryonic stem cells to develop therapies for treating stroke patients, Autism, cancers, women with genetic disorders, among others, and were interested in exporting their results, but feared what could happen after President Obama left office and a Republican became President. That fear is now confirmed.
Since Trump re-introduced the expanded GGR, government policies have virtually vetoed stem cell research and progress and many companies collaborating into harnessing embryonic stem cells to develop treatment are getting frustrated.
Abayomi Ajayi believes since Nigerian Scientists mostly live on the outcome of results from UK and US “because of failed system at home which is not supportive of direct budget for research institutes, whatever little gain we have made is also being impacted by Trump’s gag rule”.
“It’s really a shame but the world aren’t waiting on US unstable policies, some other scientists outside US shores are beginning to explore other substitutes for embryonic stem cell therapies, scientists are already looking at cosmetic surgery, even sin cells and other areasunfortunately Nigerian scientists are still lagging, waiting for embryonic stem research results from the US”, observed Ajayi.
Obafunwa told our Correspondent that Forensic Pathology in Nigeria is presently exploring use of embryonic stem cells in discovering certain genetic disorders in man such as pregnancy induced diabetes, Parkinson Diseases and manipulating appropriate treatment in the country “however, the effort is hindered by dedicated research funding”.
Obafunwa’s concern is that the country might be far from achieving results to help solve a number of degenerative diseases particularly among the reproductive population.
Both experts therefore advised that if Nigeria is to be independent and develop beyond donor monies, Philanthropists and Private organisations would have to set up research fund for science and medicine especially on reproductive health while government will equally provide independent budget line for research institutes”.
According to Obafunwa, “the unfortunate argument has been the link of embryonic harvest to demand for legalising abortion or legal safe termination of unwanted pregnancies; these are very much unrelated.
“Harvesting embryonic stem cells are more often done from left overs of embryos after invitro fertilisation or destroyed embryos due to medical conditions that occurred in pregnant women leading to spontaneous abortions, not necessarily medical abortions from unwanted pregnancies and its often around the first week of gestation”, said Obafunwa.
He explained, “After conception, the implantation within the womb takes place usually between the eighth and twelfth day and the primitive streak becomes obvious by defaulting to lighting.
“The first heartbeat noticed in the embryo, is usually between day 22 and 25; and brain waves can be detected between day 48 and 52. The vital organs are beginning to come in place by day 56 in other words, we are reaching the end of the second month. Fatal movement becomes apparent between 12th and 13h weeks essentially b the third month.
“ So, depending on the side of the argument, we know that stem cells are identifiable between the 4th and 5th day and can be harvested even before the implantation period”, says Obafunwa.
Explaining why the moralists are opposed to stem cell research, Ajayi said, “Once stem cells are removed at this stage, the blastocyst (remnants of the embryo) becomes non-viable and incapable of further development”, averred Obafunwa.