State Stem Cell News
Research stories again being light, today I’ll devote a little bit of time to additional updates on stem cells and state happenings.
In Delaware, the vote scheduled for yesterday on a stem cell bill was indeed delayed. It will probably be brought to the floor within a month. One of the bill’s backers is unhappy about an amendment that would require the funds to be reauthorized in three years—he thinks that will deter scientists from entering into extensive research projects. Read more on the News Journal
In Wisconsin, some members of the legislature have written a letter to President Bush, asking that the 2 newly created embryonic stem cell lines be eligible for federal funding. The lines were created with an animal-free culture medium, which means they do not have the contamination of existing federally funded stem cell lines. There is also a proposed resolution fully supporting stem cell research, according to an article in the Capital Times
In Iowa, a push is on to make the state more prominent in stem cell research. Embryonic stem cell research is currently banned in Iowa. Earlier this month, the Iowa City Press-Citizen
ran a story about a new stem cell separating machine acquired by a local company. Cellular Engineering Technologies has acquired a machine which uses magnets to attach antibodies to blood stem cells, thus making them much easier to isolate and separate for future culturing. According to Cellular Engineering’s CEO, the company will be able to produce “hundreds” of samples a week. A brief AP story on the subject is available on the Des Moines Register
. In the meantime, the Democratic Governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack, used his Condition of the State address to call for a repeal of a 2002 law which banned therapeutic cloning. A short version of the story is on the WOI-TV
website; a longer version of the AP article is in the Iowa State Daily
. (Don’t get your news from TV if you can help it, they shorten everything….) According to the article, Nicholas Zavazava, an immunologist at the University of Iowa,
said recent research indicates that nuclear cell transfer is "the way to go" for medical breakthroughs in a number of areas. He believes public sentiment on the issue could change if it was explained clearly. "There's never been a good explanation to the general public on what this research actually involves and where these cells would come from," Zavazava said.
And speaking of states, the Washington Post
ran an editorial saying basically that states need to stay out of funding stem cell research and avoid politicizing science:
More worrying, one of his aides, quoted in the Baltimore Sun, said that the governor's [Robert Ehrlich of Maryland] program will favor non-embryonic stem cell research, precisely the kind for which federal funding is available and which resident Bush's policies encourage. In practice, that means researchers whose work conforms to the governor's idea of "good science" will win favor. If that isn't the ultimate politicization of science, it's hard to think what would be.
The aide has since retracted the statement; the Baltimore Business Journal
On Thursday, Foster released a statement saying that Ehrlich "has directed that all proposals for the usage of the dedicated funds, including proposals for embryonic stem cell research, receive an exhaustive and science-based evaluation by the Maryland Technology Development Corporation.”
So, going back to the Post editorial, they say Ehrlich’s new emphasis on stem cells is pre-electoral and that the pressure in this field is so intense that scientists will overstate their projects to get money. OK, let’s grant that. But where then should money come from? Scientific research isn’t free. But you sure aren’t going to get enough funding by passing the hat among the general public. The Feds aren’t providing for hESC research under the Bush administration. Getting all the money from pharmaceutical companies quickly becomes icky, because research gets tied to bottom lines, stockholders, and other issues not related to the value of the research itself. Universities are cash-strapped. So there’s not much of anyone left except the states, perhaps via bonds.
And when states are not equivalent in what kinds of research they allow, the states that are more flexible will benefit from scientific recruitment, biotech recruitment, hospitals that can conduct clinical trials, and so on. You can’t divorce science of this type from economics, and economics is tied to politics.
I’m not advocating politicizing science! But I do think the Post is missing the reality that science doesn’t take place in a de-politicized environment. The question is how to best deal with that for the greatest benefit.
The NIH Budget for the 2006 fiscal year was $28,740 million. (PDF
.) That’s a little less than the PepsiCo 2004 annual revenue of $29,261 million. (http://ccbn.mobular.net/ccbn/7/855/912/
). PepsiCo’s profit is about half that. There’s more money going to junk food from consumers’ pockets than there is going to health from the government. Without a widespread, broad-based reprioritization of values in the American culture, so that DNA is more important than Doritos, sciences will depend on government money.