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February 18, 2005

Stem Cell Research -- Promise and Politics -- Focus of Conference at Smith

NIH Stem Cell Task Force director, researchers, to speak March 4-5

NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—The development of embryonic stem cell research and the widespread attention it has received in recent years has aroused political conflicts between the potential for dramatic advances in treatment of degenerative diseases and ethical questions over the use of embryos.

On Friday and Saturday, March 4-5, at Smith College, leaders in the field will debate the myriad issues surrounding the controversial research.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Stem Cell Task Force director James F. Battey and experts in biology, law, politics and ethics will participate in panel discussions about the science, social responsibility and public policy surrounding stem cell research. The conference occurs even as state legislators debate a bill intended to stimulate Massachusetts’ biotechnology sector.

“This conference offers the entire community an unparalleled opportunity to go behind the headlines and engage in a crucial debate of our time,” said Marjorie Senechal, director of the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute. “Biotechnology’s promise for enhancing human health is truly staggering. It is challenging our notion of what it means to be human.”

Embryonic stem cells are of great interest to medicine and science because of their ability to develop into virtually any other cell made by the human body. Biologists are investigating the possibility of growing cells such as bone marrow, neural tissue and muscle that could potentially save or improve lives.

But such research poses difficult ethical and legal questions for elected officials. Governor Mitt Romney supports state guidelines that permit the development of embryonic stem cell lines from surplus embryos in fertility clinics although not the creation of new embryos for research. National policy limits funding of the research to work on previously established cell lines; yet there are no restrictions on private funding.

The following panels are free, open to the public and wheelchair accessible:


8 p.m. Friday, March 4, in the Weinstein Auditorium, Wright Hall
Robert Merritt, Smith College professor of biological sciences and panel chair
John Kessler, director of the Evelyn Feinberg Clinical Neuroscience Research Institute, Northwestern University
Douglas Melton, Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences, Harvard University

10 a.m. Saturday, March 5, in the Weinstein Auditorium, Wright Hall
Donald Joralemon, Smith College professor of anthropology, and panel chair
R. Alta Charo, Elizabeth S. Wilson-Bascom Professor of Law and Bioethics, University of Wisconsin Law School
Sarah Franklin, professor of social studies of biomedicine, London School of Economics and Political Science

2 p.m. Saturday, March 5, in the Weinstein Auditorium, Wright Hall
Deborah Haas-Wilson, Smith College professor of economics and panel chair
Sidney H. Golub, former executive director of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Behavior, Smith College Board of Trustees
James F. Battey, chair, National Institutes of Health Stem Cell Task Force

The conference was designed by faculty and student fellows within the Kahn Institute’s yearlong “Biotechnology and World Health” program and sponsored by the institute and President Carol T. Christ.

Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation’s foremost liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state and 60 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women’s college in the country.

For more information about the conference, visit or call (413) 585-3721, or e-mail

Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Kristen Cole
Media Relations Director
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

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