Michigan voters will be asked on Nov. 4 to consider a ballot measure that will determine the fate of a state law that currently restricts research using embryonic stem cells. And in several other states, there's pending legislation related to stem cell research.

But are voters prepared to make an educated decision about this complex, fast-emerging new field of medicine?

According to a report released today by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, very few likely voters - 11 percent - feel that they know a lot about stem cell research. The good news: Voters do have an interest in learning more about stem cell research.

And, the poll finds, a greater understanding of the issue may be the key to gaining voter support for embryonic stem cell initiatives.

"Our findings suggest that there's a clear opportunity for the medical community, universities and other organizations to inform the public more generally about stem cell research - its potential to improve the functioning of people with certain diseases or to replace organs that have been lost. It's also important to educate the public about the controversies surrounding stem cell research, to allow them to make an educated decision," says Matthew M. Davis, M.D., M.A.P.P., director of the National Poll on Children's Health.

The National Poll on Children's Health finds:

-- Fifty-six percent of voters polled think embryonic stem cell research should be allowed. Twenty-four percent of voters are still unsure on the issue.

-- Seventy-two percent of voters favor national over state laws for stem cell research.

-- Eighty-five percent of voters who have a lot of knowledge on stem cell research believe it should be allowed. Only 25 percent of voters with no knowledge on stem cell research would support it.

-- Voters without children in their household are more likely to support embryonic stem cell research (59 percent) than voters with children in their household (47 percent).

-- Among voters who support embryonic stem cell research, more than half believe that private industry and government should be allowed to perform embryonic stem cell research. Eighty-six percent believe universities should be allowed to do it.

Stem cell research holds the potential to lead to possible treatments for spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease, juvenile diabetes, and other pediatric and adult diseases. Still, the use of embryonic stem cells remains controversial.

Embryonic stem cells that scientists study come from early-stage embryos. These embryos are created in fertility clinics for the purpose of fertility treatment. But for a variety of reasons, not all embryos can be used for fertility treatment, and some embryos are discarded. In Michigan, it currently is legal to discard embryos that cannot be used for fertility treatment. It is not, however, legal to use them in medical research that might help patients.

"Universities and other organizations have been pushing certain states, including Michigan, to adopt new laws about stem cell research that would allow them to use stem cells to perform cutting-edge medical research and advance medicine," says Davis, associate professor of general pediatrics and internal medicine at the U-M Medical School, and associate professor of public policy at the U-M Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. "It's important to note that in our poll, universities received the most support from voters as sites for stem cell research. This finding may be a key factor as voters consider laws about this controversial area of research."

A related study released today from the U-M Institute for Social Research shows a majority of the public - nearly 70 percent - supports embryonic stem cell research, and a smaller majority - 54 percent - believes that the current lines of embryonic stem cells approved by President Bush for federal funding do not provide enough for research needs. Most notably, the public exhibited considerable confusion about laws governing the disposition of leftover embryos from fertility clinics. More than 44 percent believed, incorrectly, that under current law, research using embryos that would otherwise be destroyed is prohibited in all fifty states. In fact, only a few states, including Michigan, prohibit using leftover embryos for research.

These findings - along with those from the National Poll on Children's Health - point to a greater need to educate the public about stem cell research.

U-M - home to one of six U.S. core facilities for the maintenance of federally approved lines of human embryonic stem cells - is one of several organizations in Michigan working to educate voters about stem cell research. U-M stem cell experts, as well as the university's Web site devoted to the issue, offer the public a greater understanding of stem cells, from what they are and where they come from to their potential medical benefits. For more information about stem cell research, visit:

- U-M Stem Cell Research: www.umich.edu/stemcell
- Stem Cells at The National Academies: nationalacademies/stemcells
- U-M Life Sciences Institute: www.lsi.umich.edu/facultyresearch/centers/stemcellbiology
- UMHS press release: Five things you should know about stem cell research: www2.med.umich.edu/prmc/media/newsroom/details.cfm?ID=696

For the complete report and podcast about poll results, visit the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health online at www.med.umich.edu/mott/npch.

Methodology: For its report, the National Poll on Children's Health used data from a national online survey conducted in August 2008 in collaboration with Knowledge Networks, Inc. The survey was administered to a random sample of 2,245 adults, ages 18 and older, who are a part of Knowledge Network's online KnowledgePanel®. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect U.S. population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. About three-fourths of the sample were households with children.

To learn more about Knowledge Networks, visit www.knowledgenetworks.

Purpose/Funding: The C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health - funded by the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases and part of the CHEAR Unit at the U-M Health System - is designed to measure major health care issues and trends for U.S. children.

University of Michigan Health System
www.med.umich.edu

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