Former First Lady Nancy Reagan said NO to drugs but YES to stem cell research. Where are we now? @sbpdiscovery researcher explains

Expert Pitch

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan said NO to Drugs, but said YES to stem cell research.

Dr. Evan Snyder, Director of the Center for Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine at Sanford Burnham Prebys (SBP)in La Jolla, California explains why, and talks about where we are today in stem cell research.

Talk about Nancy Reagan’s passion for stem cell research.

"Nancy Reagan, like many patient advocates, pushed for stem cell research because of her own personal connection to a disease: President Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s. She recognized that stem cell biology offered insights into potential therapies for Alzheimer’s.

In that sense she was very forward looking. More people accept stem cell biology now, but she was doing this 12 years ago, when it was still very controversial and not what the rank and file Republican would advocate.

The former First Lady really saw beyond politics and became a strong advocate for Prop 71, at a time when it really needed the boost.

Prop 71 was the bill that established CIRM or California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The bill devoted significant resources to stem cell research through bonds.

Nancy Reagan had enormous respect throughout the country. Someone with her credibility having faith in the ability in stem cell biology to give us answers, put this proposition over the top and got it passed."

What’s happening in stem cell research today, at Sanford Burnham Prebys (SBP) and at other centers around the country?

"The field has changed over the years. Some research still involves doing stem cell transplants, but we know now the cells themselves can model a “disease in a dish”, and these can help us discover potential new drug therapies to treat or prevent different aspects of a disease. We are using stem cells to study everything from spinal cord injury and stroke, to degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, to birth defects in kids. We are also studying psychiatric disorders like bi-polar or schizophrenia. We think we understand the biologic basis for bipolar disease and therefore can figure out better drugs to treat it.

We are also in clinical trials using stem cells to treat brain tumors and blood related cancers." Did CIRM work? How close are we to therapies?

"As a result of CIRM, there are now drugs in clinical trials to treat diabetes and macular degeneration.

Stem cells are present in every organ in every stage of life. Our job is as biologists is to study all of them, and figure which ones in which stage are best suited for disease."

For more information or to set up an interview with Dr. Evan Snyder, contact SBP Communications Director Kristen Cusato at