Philanthropist Bernie Marcus supports stem cell research

By Maria Saporta

Advocates who favor the development of stem cell research in Georgia have a major Republican business leader on their side.

Bernie Marcus, co-founder of the Home Depot who is now a leading philanthropist in scientific and health initiatives, spoke last Thursday at the Life Sciences Summit put on by Georgia Bio.

Marcus, and his wife, Billi, were honored at the Summit for “their commitment in support of bioscience research and medical innovation.”

The Marcus Foundation has supported such organizations as the Marcus Stroke & Neuroscience Center at Grady Hospital, the Marcus Trauma Center also at Grady, the Marcus Autism Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the Shepherd Center and the Marcus Nanotechnology Building at Georgia Tech.

After his talk, Robert Nerem, director of the Georgia Tech/Emory Center for the Engineering of Living Tissues, approached Marcus to ask him his thoughts about the use of embryonic stem cells in research.

There have been efforts over the years in the Georgia legislature to restrict or outlaw the use of embryonic stem cell research in the state.

“I think it’s a whole new world for us,” Marcus told Nerem. “I think it’s probably going to help us work on paralysis and other degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s. I’m a real believer.”

Asked how Georgia’s business leaders could help make sure that bio-medical and stem cell research can be welcomed in the state, Marcus said: “We have to do everything in our power to them the understand what’s at stake.”

What about the two candidates running for governor? Former Gov. Roy Barnes, the Democrat in the race, has been a strong proponent of stem cell research. Former Congressman Nathan Deal has been more tepid in his support, and he has signed a “Right to Life” pledge that opposes embryonic stem cell research.

“They are both good guys,” Marcus said. “If we can save people’s lives, we should do it. I would just encourage both of them to support it.”

Marcus then mentioned the ground-breaking stem cell research that underway at the Shepherd Center, which treats patients with spinal chord injuries.

“The cat is out of the bag,” Marcus said. “You know, to me, saving a life is God’s work.”

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