Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Battle Over Stem Cells

Stem cells have always been a controversial issue, but for a while it seemed that the Obama administration had brought some kind of direction to the issue by allowing federal funding of research based on embryonic stem cells. But recently, stem cells have been back in the news because a US district court filed suit to block the Obama administration's attempts to provide more funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Reporting on the issue by the BBC has been informative. I think giving the hard facts of the story in a way that doesn't entertain the emotional components and personally held beliefs (on either side) is really necessary. I think their reporting on the issue does just that.

One component of the story that I do want to comment on is the argument that limiting federal funding for embryonic stem cell research won't be detrimental to the research. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the largest funding organization in the United States. The amount of funding that private institutes can provide is completely dwarfed by the NIH.

Restricting funding on embryonic stem cell research in the United States will be detrimental to our progress, that is why under the Bush administration we lost researchers to other countries in Europe and Asia where that research is supported.  The research that took place during those years is indicative of what we'll accomplish under a new ban. Personally, I am glad the White House is fighting this. When religious beliefs start to take a role in shaping policy it can become incredibly dicey.

I do think that adult stem cell research has value, and research into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells has made tremendous progress, but researchers do still need to study pluripotency and iPS cells aren't an adequate model yet. I don't think you can replace one avenue of research with another, they just aren't the same no matter how much we might wish that they were because it would eliminate the ethical issues.

Here are a few highlights of articles that I wrote for BioTechniques recently on Stem Cell research:

Vatican to support international intestinal stem cell consortium
Induced pluripotent stem cells create first living animal
The shape of things to come: helping stem cells shape their future
iPS cells still fall short of embryonic capabilities
Are iPS cells a thing of the past?

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