Campaigner for stem-cell research dies aged 52.
The actor Christopher Reeve, who worked tirelessly to promote stem-cell research after being paralysed in a riding accident in 1995, has died.
Reeve went into a coma on 9 October after suffering a heart attack during treatment for an infected wound, and died the following day without regaining consciousness at the Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, New York.
Although best known for playing Superman in four films, Reeve established the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation (CRPF) in 1999, to fund research into the treatment of spinal injury. In particular, he advocated research into stem cells and the CRPF funded international research programmes to that end.
Stem cells are the raw materials of the body: they can turn into many different types of cell. Scientists hope that stem cells might one day be used to repair or replace damaged tissue. However, many oppose research into stem-cell therapy on ethical grounds because it sometimes involves harvesting cells from human embryos.
"Christopher Reeve has done an amazing job promoting responsible stem-cell research across the world," says Stephen Minger, who heads a research effort to produce human embryonic stem-cell lines at King's College London.
Reeve used his profile as an actor to support the research, which continues to be a controversial topic on the US political agenda. The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act was introduced in the US House of Representatives and Senate on 7 May, 2003. Although not yet ratified, it aims to boost funding from the US National Institutes of Health for a wide range of research into paralysis, including stem-cell research.
"He was the human voice that changed attitudes. It's one thing for scientists to say 'we know we can do this', but Christopher put all this into a real-life perspective," says Colin Blakemore, a neuroscientists from the University of Oxford and chief executive of Britain's Medical Research Council. "It's people like Christopher we desperately want to help," he adds.
"Christopher was a hero to many people," says Kathy Lewis, president of the CRPF. "We will continue in his honour to be steadfast in our goal of finding treatments and cures for paralysis."
"He was one of the leading figures who encouraged debate on the subject of human embryonic stem-cell research," says Miodrag Stojkovic, stem-cell researcher at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne's Centre for Life, UK. "We will miss his contribution."
"It is sad that he did not live long enough to see the full benefits of the research for which he campaigned," adds Blakemore.