My short bio: I am Dr. Raj Kittappa, a Stem Cell scientist whose work to isolate dopamine-generating cells in the brain has been used to make breakthroughs in the treatment and understanding of Parkinson's Disease.

I'm running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. House of Representatives in Pennsylvania's 16th District to help bring more scientists to Congress, and to use my scientific background to provide common sense solutions to challenges facing education, the environment, and a number of other issues currently in front of Congress.

Check out my campaign website at www.rajforcongress2014.com!

My Proof: https://twitter.com/RajforCongress/status/467363556191899648

Update: Hey guys, thanks for all the questions! I'll check back here in a bit, but always feel free to check out my campaign website (www.rajforcongress2014), check out the page on Facebook, or hit me up on twitter @rajforcongress.

And don't forget to vote in the primary on this Tuesday, May 20!

Update 2: I'm out hitting the streets in advance of the primary, but I'll be back later tonight live to answer questions around 9. Keep them coming and I'm happy to answer you all!

Comments: 63 • Responses: 25  • Date: 

IFartOnHipsters9 karma

I'd just like to say it's great to see a man of science in politics. Unfortunately it's a rarity and if more political decisions were based on scientific evidence instead of political push, I believe this country could do amazing things. Send some of your friends to Connecticut!! Haha

RajForCongress7 karma

Thanks! Congress does need more scientists. We bring solutions-based approaches to everything we do. It's sorely needed all over the country, but especially in the PA-16 where all we get from Rep. Joe Pitts is rhetoric.

RajForCongress8 karma

Great question! This has actually been a big part of why I'm running. As scientists, we are professional problem solvers. We like studying issues, finding good solutions regardless of where they might originate, and look to find clear, common sense solutions to problems. If you misinterpret or misrepresent the results of your experiment, your next experiments won't work, and a lot of your colleagues won't like that you wasted their time. In scientific reasearch, you can't get away with the rhetoric and noise that we see in Congress these days. To paraphrase Louis Pasteur, fortune favors the prepared mind. We need more "prepared minds" in Congress.

edit: still new to Reddit. Hope you guys will tolerate my growing pains on here.

W1ldtortilla6 karma

Hi Raj, thanks for doing this AMA. As a scientist working and living in Lancaster, I'm excited about the prospect of having you in the house of representatives! Could you provide some differences between you and incumbent Joe Pitts, and why you think you are better suited for job?

RajForCongress8 karma

Great question. The first difference? Joe Pitts voted to shut down our government, hurting local schools, businesses, hospitals, and people dependent on the government for things like Social Security. As a scientist, I don't buy into party rhetoric. I work to find solutions, and will vote in Congress for a good idea, regardless of which side of the aisle it comes from. In addition, I would have voted in favor of the Violence Against Women Act (Pitts voted against it), for Hurricane Sandy relief (Pitts, again, was against it), for immigration reform (which Pitts and the Tea Party are once again putting off until the next Congress), and to keep our government open.

necrotica4 karma

What are your views on the failure of Representatives to fully Represent the People as opposed to the Rich Elite classes / Corporations in this country? Do you feel the United States is becoming an Oligarchy?

RajForCongress9 karma

We're not an oligarchy yet, but we should be vigilant. I think a lot of people feel their voices aren't being heard in Congressional districts all over the country, especially the Pennsylvania 16th District (after all, our Representative is Joe Pitts - he represents corporations far more than the people). We need strong corporations for a strong economy, but I'm very concerned with the amount of influence corporations have in Congress currently and think we need to make our Representatives more accessible and responsible to the people.

orilykid4 karma

Why do you think scientists or those with scientific backgrounds will make worthy candidates for public office?

Thanks for doing an AMA.

RajForCongress8 karma

Great question! This has actually been a big part of why I'm running. As scientists, we are professional problem solvers. We like studying issues, finding good solutions regardless of where they might originate, and look to find clear, common sense solutions to problems. If you misinterpret or misrepresent the results of your experiment, your next experiments won't work, and a lot of your colleagues won't like that you wasted their time. In scientific reasearch, you can't get away with the rhetoric and noise that we see in Congress these days. To paraphrase Louis Pasteur, fortune favors the prepared mind. We need more "prepared minds" in Congress.

jungleboogiemonster4 karma

Since you're in the medical field and are trying to enter politics, it only seems natural to ask what your professional and political views are on the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana.

RajForCongress9 karma

I support medical marijuana. As a biomedical researcher, I'm willing to look at any way to help ailing people, and the benefits of medical marijuana for certain treatments have been clear. I view the new state laws in Colorado and Washington regarding recreational marijuana as an experiment. I am curious to see how Colorado and Washington move forward with their new marijuana laws. Soon we'll have enough data for the nation to reexamine this issue. I believe recreational marijuana should be left for the states to decide.

TK-Chubs1183 karma

Hey Raj, sounds like you have quite the following with your election. do you think the fact that you worked on stem cells, a very controversial field in today's society, will affect the amount of voters that back you?

RajForCongress5 karma

Different people have different views of stem cells. I think, however, there's an increasing knowledge and awareness that this is an innovative field that is leading to some breakthrough medical treatments, and teaching us a lot about how to combat diseases. Joe Pitts might not vote for me based on that, but most people are becoming aware of how important stem cell research is. In fact, Nancy Reagan became a big supporter of stem cell research when it became clear that it could help diseases like Alzheimer's, from which President Reagan suffered.

I think the idea of a scientist in Congress is an alluring one to most people, and many people in the Pennsylvania 16th recognize the need for someone who looks at facts and doesn't buy into rhetoric and partisan battles. I'll bring to the table a different way of thinking about things, and a common sense approach to solving problems.

FrankieCash3 karma

Raj that is a very impressive background and I wish you luck in your campaign and fundraising. Do you think the Pennsylvania 16th is ready to elect a Democrat?

RajForCongress3 karma

I think the Pennsylvania 16th is ready for a Representative who listens, who doesn't bother with partisan bickering, and who makes an effort to understand an issue. I'm that candidate.

I'm a candidate that has bipartisan support, including many moderate Republicans who have contributed to my campaign. These people recognize that Joe Pitts represents the extreme right and the Tea Party, and they want a Representative that listens and doesn't just tow the party line. My bipartisan support puts me in a strong place to challenge Rep. Pitts in November.

My background as a stem cell scientist has already generated national interest and support and, in the general election, I think that a Democrat who isn't your run-of-the-mill lawyer or politician will be best suited to defeat Joe Pitts and represent our district.

BKKALLDAY3 karma

Do you think that if you were to represent the 16th in PA, government funding of stem cell research or implementation of more stem cell treatments would occur?

RajForCongress7 karma

If elected, I will vote consistently to increase funding for medical research, including stem cell research. When I returned from Cambridge, I saw the effects of the government shutdown on medical research being conducted by colleagues and how much it harmed breakthrough medical treatments. I will absolutely vote to fund and implement stem cell research and other types of medical research.

kwip3 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA! Where do you stand on Net Neutrality?

RajForCongress4 karma

In terms of net neutrality, I support a free and unfettered internet. I understand the way we use the internet and demands on bandwith and resources are changing, but we must ensure the internet remains free and open for the flow of information to reach consumers, without allowing preferential access based on what you can pay. I largely agree with Tim Berners-Lee, especially the idea of "connectivity with no strings attached."

RajForCongress3 karma

For the record, if elected, I would absolutely continue my opposition to SOPA, PIPA, CISPA, and any likeminded legislation.

butterscotchs3 karma

Hello! I am wondering what are some issues in Education that are important to you and what are some solutions you might have?

RajForCongress8 karma

As a scientist, and the son of a retired mathematics professor and current high school biology teacher, I love the idea of STEM education. I know the value these subjects play in keeping the U.S. innovative and economically strong. However, if we're really going to develop great science, technology, engineering, and math programs as a country, we have to make sure we avoid teaching only for standardized tests. These concepts need to be taught hands-on, and in a way that allows students to develop critical thinking.

I'm also concerned with the rising costs of a college education in the U.S. I think we need to make sure students and our nation won't face a loan/education bubble, while also making sure they get a quality education for their money. Unfortunately, the Ryan Budget introduced this year would cut more than $15 billion (a reduction of more than 40%) to Pell grants, according to the Center for American Progress. If elected, I will work tirelessly to protect programs that make college affordable for people who want to a pursue a college education and strengthen our economy.

grmtnnnt3 karma

Not really a question but my Grandpa passed away recently of Parkinsons disease. I just want to thank you for your continuted research and support. US politics are not my thing (Scottish) but I hope you do good.

RajForCongress5 karma

Sorry to hear about your Grandpa. My grandmother passed away from Parkinson's, and I know what kind of toll the disease can take. Anyway, thanks for the support, and I'd like to go on record as saying my favorite team in Six Nations is whoever is playing England.

I_Carry_a_big_stick_3 karma

How long do you think it will take until we are able to use the stem cell technology in out local hospitals?

RajForCongress7 karma

That day is coming soon. If I had to guess, we're looking at 5-7 years for stem cell use in local hospitals for Parkinson's Disease specifically, which is what I worked on extensively. The work I did at the National Institutes of Health and at Cambridge University is in the earliest steps of translation in larger hospitals and research facilities like Memorial Sloan Kettering. The first clinical trials using stem cells for complex skin disorders have already begun in Italy. Trials for diabetes treatment and muscular dystrophy are in the works. If we fund the NIH the way we need to, you are going to see these technologies and methods in hospitals in less than a decade.

ryfry873 karma

As a scientist, you have obviously devoted a great amount of time to your research. As I am a mathematician and I have devoted a lot of time to analysis, I would find it hard to drop my conjectures and take up something like politics. How do you plan on balancing your research with working to better the nation?

RajForCongress5 karma

If elected, I plan on dedicating myself entirely to bettering our nation. As long as my colleagues in science are fully supported, my personal research can wait. As a scientist, I'll bring a common-sense, results oriented outlook to Congress.

When I returned to the States from Cambridge, I saw the consequences of the shutdown on biomedical research. While at NIH, I was able to see up close how little attention was being paid on in Congress to research that is helping ailing people all over the world. I also knew that this was something that had to be addressed, not from within but from outside the scientific community.

I hit many of my goals in science earlier than I anticipated. For now, I'm turning my energies to this new endeavor to help strengthen education and research efforts that are funded by Congress. If elected, my attention will be on increasing funding for science and technology and preparing our economy for the science and technology-intense jobs that will keep the U.S. a great innovator.

JoeyCriZack3 karma

Hi Raj, like you, I am the son of a Lancaster County biology teacher. I would just like to know your stance on our region's education system, which seems to me to be completely dependent upon standardized tests.

The tests, to me (and pretty much everyone I know) are pretty pointless and the kids don't care about it, yet they are one of the largest determining factors for evaluating a school's performance. I graduated from Penn Manor a few years ago and I noticed how much attention was put on these tests instead of in more beneficial areas. Is there anything that you believe could improve our current system?

Also, thank you for doing this AMA, it's great to see a candidate actively converse with the public.

RajForCongress5 karma

This is a topic I've heard a lot about from teachers and parents of students in our local school systems. Recently, there's been a movement to increase the use of standardized tests. I don't think this is good for teachers, for schools, or, most importantly, our children. The focus on teaching for the tests has limited the teachers' ability to help our children learn to think critically, and is often done at the expense of traditional learning.

We need to return to teaching children how to think critically, and emphasize STEM topics in a hands-on way that allows kids to learn organically. Emphasizing STEM and critical thinking will help prepare our kids for the jobs of tomorrow. The iPhone can be manufactured in China, but it was invented in the U.S. STEM is key to keeping creativity and innovation strong in the U.S. economy.

nikky1172 karma

Do you have any knowledge or experience involving stem cell research in regards to ALS (Lou Gherigs disease)? From what I understand there is no known cause for or cure for ALS, but there are studies and stem cell research being done. Any knowledge at all would be very much appreciated. My father passed away from the disease in March and I really hope some medical advancements are made soon so that nobody else has to suffer from that nasty disease again.

RajForCongress3 karma

I am very sorry to hear about your father. ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) is a truly horrific disease. There are a number of people working on stem cell therapies for ALS, paralysis, and spinocerebellar motor conditions. I was an inventor on one of the first patents (maybe the first) demonstrating the generation of human motor neurons from human embryonic stem cells. I do not know how long it will take for a cell therapy for ALS to emerge but there are very capable people at Columbia (Tom Jessell, who is a scientist I look up to a lot), Harvard, and Johns Hopkins who are leading the way.

Stem cell therapies are best applied to degenerative diseases. In degenerative diseases, a specific type of cell dies, ie beta-cells in the pancreatic islets die in diabetes, muscle cells die in muscular dystrophy, and dopamine-producing neurons die in Parkinson’s disease. In ALS, motor neurons in the spine degenerate, damaging the ability of muscles to talk to the brain. If you think about the distance between your toes and your spine, you realize that these are some unusual cells. Simply grafting stem cell-derived motor neurons into the spine of a patient with ALS or paralysis will not help because the tissues that they are talking to are so far away. So the challenge, here, is to rebuild those circuits over a very long distance.

We're beginning to understand the causes of ALS. There are a number of cases, although rare, of hereditary ALS and we have discovered the genes which are disrupted in these families. Interestingly, these genes may be involved in axonal transport which may be very sensitive in these very long neurons. Using stem cells which have ALS-causing mutations, we can generate diseased motor neurons and screen drugs which prolong the life of motor neurons and may slow or halt the progression of the disease.

IllegalMonk2 karma

How close are we to curing diabetes (Type 1)?

RajForCongress1 karma

Both of my parents are type 2 diabetics, which is very common among people from India and is quite prevalent in the U.S., so I know the issues people with diabetes face. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes both involve the loss of pancreatic beta-cells which produce insulin and which regulate the levels of sugar in the blood. Type 1 diabetes is actually an autoimmune disease so curing the disease requires a different strategy than the more prevalent type 2 form.

Stem cell therapies for diabetes are more straightforward for the type 2 form because grafted cells will probably be destroyed by the same autoimmune cells that cause type 1 diabetes. However, there are a number of recent papers bringing together immunologists, endocrinologists, and biochemists that suggest powerful new therapies for type 1 diabetes, especially if it is caught and treated very early. Once again, it is important to fund research like this. We spend less than 1% of our budget on biomedical research and that number is shrinking every day. Research like this not only makes Americans more healthy, it also generates the high-tech jobs that this country will be based on in the near future.

jungleboogiemonster2 karma

You are on the record as supporting affordable higher education through funding, as well as student loans and grants. However, the biggest threat to public higher education in Pennsylvania is the underfunded pension fund. As a congressman, do you feel that you can provide a solution or relief to the universities of Pennsylvania?

RajForCongress7 karma

My father was a professor at Millersville University, and retired not too long ago after more than 30 years. I know the value of these pensions. The oversight and funding for the pensions comes from Pennsylvania itself. Of course, state universities like Millersville receive federal funding, so I will continue to investigate the extent of Congressional oversight on this issue.

NinaBambina2 karma

I've been interested in stem cell research and its recent breakthroughs. I know that a lot of work still has to be done, but when do you think that induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells might replace embryonic stem cells? Will we see that in our lifetime?

Edit: Capitalization

RajForCongress6 karma

I love the stem cell questions.

The answer to your question is that it appears that funding for iPS cells has already overtaken funding for human ES cells by some distance, but let me describe iPS cells for the uninitiated.

I count among my friends, Shin Yamanaka, winner of the Nobel Prize in 2012 for induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells. iPS cells are cells genetically manipulated in the lab so that they resemble embryonic stem (ES) cells. iPS cells are generated from the differentiated cells of an individual human being and are genetically identical to that human being; therefore, grafts of tissue derived from iPS cells would be syngenic and, theoretically, not be rejected. iPS cells can be generated from patients with genetic forms of Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and other diseases and used to model the disease in a tissue culture dish.

TheGrim12 karma

Looking at your website and the issues you are interested in... many of them are going to cost money. Some of them could be significantly pricey.

Where will this money come from?

And what are your thoughts on this nation's current deficit?

RajForCongress4 karma

Over the last decade, we have spent an immense amount of money on overseas military operations. As those wind down, we need to shift some of that spending to programs like education and research that will strengthen our economy and prepare us for jobs of tomorrow. Shifting our resources to domestic educational and research efforts will strengthen our economy.

Additionally, funding for the entire National Institutes of Health is less than 1% of the overall federal budget. These programs are typically underfunded, and budget increases much smaller than those given to other government Departments can go incredibly far in producing life-saving medical research.

I am concerned with the current deficit and the current debt, but reductions in spending on the wars we've been engaged in over more than a decade will allow us to reduce the deficit and shrink the overall debt.

Habidaccus1 karma

I just wanted to say that I wish I was in the states to vote. I'm from Reading, a city in pretty dire straits, and I've become pretty disillusioned with politics. I like your views on the issues, and the fact you're on Reddit is a good sign that you're also in touch with the times. Good luck - PA could benefit from some modernization.

RajForCongress1 karma

Thanks for the support! I grew up with a lot of people from Reading, West Reading, Wyomissing, and still have a good amount of friends there. A lot of people around here are becoming disillusioned because we don't have an active and engaged representative in Congress. I'm here to listen, to talk to people in the area, and work towards solutions in Congress if elected. Tell your friends and family in Reading that I'm running in the primary on Tuesday, May 20, and that they can check out my positions on my website if they're interested.

hypereactive1 karma

what helped you make the conclusion that working in Stem Cell research translates into politics? Politics is heavily corrupted, and the average person tends to shun intelligent people for knowing too much, how would you say you relate to these people as a whole?

RajForCongress3 karma

Scientific research forces a person to think critically, to dive deeply into an issue and examine it from all sides. Science doesn't have time for rhetoric and demands results. Congress has enough lawyers and career politicians. My background as a problem solver is exactly what Congress needs now.

There are many Republicans here in Lancaster who are supporting my campaign because they want someone, at last, who will study the issues and work hard towards common sense solutions. I have talked to literally thousands of Lancaster Countians, going door-to-door since February and I am pretty impressed with our voting base.

Moonreaver1 karma

Damnit.. I thought you were doctor raj koothrapali.... Oh well my only question is.. What's up?

RajForCongress3 karma

Nope, not me, but he's cool, too. I always appreciate another Raj, and it's a great way to boost name recognition.

MikeArrow0 karma

Thoughts on the Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln?

RajForCongress2 karma

I haven't seen it yet, but I've heard good things. Interestingly enough, even with 150 years of redistricting, the PA-16 was essentially represented by the great Thaddeus Stevens.