Donations and Disputes
Today’s news is mostly money and politics. (Seems like that’s what it is a lot of the time.) Let’s start with the money:
Ray Dolby (of Dolby Sound) and his wife Dagmar Dolby have given $16 million to UCSF for stem cell research. The San Francisco Business Times
reports that the money will go to build a stem cell research building that will have 15 different labs in it. It will include both embryonic and adult stem cell research. The Dolbys also gave $5 million to the CIRM last June. This current donation will not cover the entire cost of the facility; UCSF expects to submit a grant proposal to the CIRM and to receive additional funding from other philanthropists and foundations. The press release
says that the UCSF stem cell program will be renamed from the UCSF Institute for Stem Cell and Tissue Biology to the UCSF Institute for Regeneration Medicine.
Ray Dolby was quoted in the press release as saying,
"The discovery of stem cells was a wonderful thing but, unfortunately, this name by itself does not seem to very well suggest what is happening or how. Moreover, the term stem cell seems to have acquired a negative meaning with some people. I hope that those who hear about the new Institute for Regeneration Medicine will visualize the nature of the research actually taking place and what its purpose is. My layman's comprehension is that scientists are studying stem cells to understand the early stages of human development and to identify ways to use the cells to replenish or restore damaged tissue. Everyone is hopeful that the research at the Institute, as well as studies already underway in the field, could pave the way for myriad new approaches to treating a wide variety of diseases."
The building is designed to allow scientists who are working in related research areas to have physical space near each other, and to allow interaction between scientists who approach their research from different angles as well. I think this is one of the most important developments; as anyone who has spent any time in an office cubicle can tell you, the architecture of the work space matters tremendously to the creativity and energy put into the work.
In Massachusetts, Democratic candidate for governor Chris Gabrieli will propose that the state borrow $100 million a year for 10 years through bonds to invest in science. Half the money would be earmarked for stem cell research, and the other half would be available for other scientific research. An article from the Boston Globe
says that the various gubernatorial candidates are courting biotechnology business. The state Legislature has endorsed embryonic stem cell research but has not provided any funding for it. The article quoted a scientist as saying that the proposal differed from other ones because it had flexibility for getting research from the lab into actual treatments.
In Illinois, a Cook County judge threw out an entire lawsuit against Governor Rod Blagojevich's $10 million stem cell program. The same judge had previously dismissed other portions of the lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed by a state resident, who plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court. According to the Chicago Sun-Times
, the resident has waged other legal battles on behalf of anti-abortion groups. The lawsuit challenged the governor’s authority to create an agency and the state Dept. of Health’s authority to issue grants. Blagojevich took the $10 million from a budget line for unspecified scientific research; a stem cell bill had previously failed to pass the legislature.
This reminds me of the California challenges to Prop 71 in that they were filed on grounds of issues not related to the fact of embryonic stem cell research. Now, there may be a constitutional or legal issue about the Governor’s authority—the judge does not appear to think so, however. The legislature isn’t acting to impeach him, either. I think opponents of embryonic stem cell research are losing legal battles because they are challenging on issues unrelated to the central issue of the research itself. I wonder how or when that core question will come to the courts.
Meanwhile, in Kansas, the Kansas City Star
reports that the debate on state funding for embryonic stem cell research is likely to heat up with the recent formation of a legislative panel to study the issue. A proposed ban on state funding for hESC research failed at the end of the legislative session, and the panel was created as a compromise. The rest of the article generally outlines the various positions and is not news; but it looks like Kansas is going to join the fray.
And, finally, in Texas, the state House is about to debate public funding of embryonic stem cell research in universities. An amendment has been proposed to a construction bill that would “bar biomedical research at those newly constructed sites if federal funding is prohibited for the research,” according to the Austin American Statesman
. Opponents to the amendment say that it would prohibit research with private dollars and for the life of the buildings.
Well, I have to say I’m kind of surprised that this isn’t already prohibited in Texas. But if the amendment does generally ban “biomedical research” and not specifically embryonic stem cell research—even though the prohibition of federal funding referenced is that for hESC research—they are going to wind up banning something they didn’t expect to at some point. And if Congress relaxes the rules on funding, then what are they going to do? It sounds like bad law.