Florida Legislators to sing stem cell karaoke


Published: Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 14, 2006 at 10:33 p.m.
Nursing homes have an odd way of resting near cemeteries and shopping malls.
Cemeteries, I get. But shopping malls are puzzling until you're visiting your grandmother and remember at the last minute the flowers you're supposed to bring. Suppressing the temptation to shop the cemetery for flowers, a mad dash to the mall usually results in a bizarre bouquet of carnations and daisies and roses that say "Get Well," "Happy Birthday and "It's A Girl" all rolled into one.
Outside the security entrance my family does a quick inventory check for our grandmother's makeover: flowers (still cool from the florist's fridge), chocolates, pictures to spark memories and hair dye because apparently grey is not natural at age 93.
Grandma punches in the security code to open the door (so much for the elopement risk), we enter, and immediately feel like we've stayed too long.
Not that time with Grandma is tense or uncomfortable; the urge to ditch the supplies and head to the nearest Starbuck's is due to the surprisingly exclusive camaraderie floating in the nursing home air. Or is it the insufferable combination of Shalimar and karaoke?
Whichever, it's comforting to see Grandma safer under around-the-clock nursing care and amongst friends.
What's most hard to shake are her shakes.
Her body has been robbed of fluid movement, leaving her with decaf coffee stains on every blouse and legs as strong as tapioca. While my sister dyes Grandma's hair back to its normal color - that being Nice N' Easy #121A - we get the full sense of how barren her brain is of dopamine.
With her palsied hand in mine and in a lucid moment, she asks how everything is going at the hospital and whether we've figured out how to use stem cells to fix her Parkinson's disease.
"We're getting closer, Grandma," always sounds like, "No, I'm a jerk."
The truth is, we are getting closer, but need so much more support.
Aside from the progress at the University of Florida Program in Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine and the McKnight Brain Institute, our State of Florida is tackling stem cells this year.
In the Florida Legislature, there are three bills up for debate (Senate Bills 468, 778, and House Bill 233). Senate Bill 468 and its companion House Bill 233 are the most comprehensive in design. These proposals would dedicate millions of dollars in grant aid as well as create an ethics council overseeing human embryonic and adult stem cell research within the state.
Senate Bill 468 and House Bill 233 specifically prohibit human embryonic stem cell research for reproductive cloning purposes.
Contacting our state legislators and asking them to support these bills would certainly go a long way towards our fight against Parkinson's and other diseases such as diabetes mellitus, heart disease, muscular dystrophy and cancer. In fact, Alachua's own state Sen. Rod Smith co-sponsors Senate Bill 468.
By far, saying goodbye to Grandma is the hardest - always has been - especially with the evening's tempting cookout of bratwursts (low sodium) and beer (non-alcoholic).
No matter how old you are, grandmas always treat you like you're 12 and wearing one of those propellered beanie caps. With a clumsy slight of hand she slips $2, hugs goodbye and whispers loudly, "I love you. Use this for gas."
I don't have the heart to tell her that with today's gas prices this won't get me out of the parking lot. Instead, I set aside this money and absorb her frustrated energy, for the road is long in using stem cells to cure. Every bit helps.
Christopher R. Cogle is a physician-scientist at the University of Florida.

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