BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – As President Bush (search) resists mounting pressure to loosen the restrictions he placed on human embryonic stem-cell research, Hollywood's supporting role in the debate this election year is growing.
Celebrities including Nancy Reagan (search), Dustin Hoffman, Michael J. Fox (search) and Larry King raised $2 million for stem-cell research Saturday night at a gala for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The money is part of nearly $20 million that the foundation is donating to advance stem-cell research (search).
A Parkinson's disease (search) foundation run by Fox, who suffers from the degenerative nerve condition, has contributed another $10 million.
The star power is providing frustrated scientists and patients with additional muscle in a lobbying campaign against Bush's policy, which limits federal funding for research on human embryonic stem cells to colonies created before August 2001.
Stem cells are the body's building blocks and have the potential to become many different types of cells. Scientists believe the cells can be coaxed into specific cells to repair organs or treat diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's (search).
Stem cells are typically taken from days-old human embryos. Because the human embryos are destroyed when the stem cells are extracted, the process is highly controversial.
Saturday's dinner featured a rare public appearance by former first lady Reagan, who renewed her call for an expansion of the research. Former President Ronald Reagan suffers from Alzheimer's disease and his wife believes stem cells might someday provide a cure.
"Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him," she said. "Because of this I'm determined to do whatever I can to save other families from this pain."
A growing number of federal lawmakers — including several staunch anti-abortion Republicans and party stalwarts like Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is also a heart surgeon — also are lobbying Bush to reconsider his policy.
Last month, 206 members of Congress, including several conservative Republicans, sent Bush a letter calling on him to reconsider his stem-cell policy.
The Bush administration said it has no plans to change its policy.
Still, Hollywood money is pouring in. Moviemakers Jerry and Janet Zucker have contributed more than $50,000 to a campaign to get a bond measure on California's ballot that would provide $3 billion in stem-cell research funds to the state's biotechnology industry.
"People from Hollywood have always supported this," said Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation chief executive Peter Van Etten. The foundation has contributed $500,000 to the California campaign.
The Zuckers said they donated money because their 16-year-old daughter has diabetes.
"When Katie was diagnosed five years ago we promised we would do everything in our power to find a cure," said Jerry Zucker, who directed the 1990 film "Ghost."