A Little More Stem Cell Politics

A couple of pieces on current stem cell politics to point out to you folks today. Firstly, a certain senator continues to hold hearings to denigrate embryonic stem cell research:

Other ethicists and scientists at the hearing touted adult stem cells, which are present in bone marrow, fat and other tissue. Dr. Marc Hedrick, president of MacroPore Biosurgery, talked about the success his company reported recently with transplanting adult stem cells derived from fat tissue into pigs1 that had experienced heart attacks. The transplants improved swines' heart function.

Adult stem cell research is indeed promising, Daley said, but that doesn't mean embryonic stem cell research should be abandoned. Adult stem cells don't have the potential to become as many types of cells as embryonic stem cells do, he said.

Brownback said that while adult stem cell treatments have already treated disease, embryonic stem cells have not yet cured anything.

That's not surprising, Daley said, because researchers have been studying adult stem cells for 50 years, while the first paper on embryonic stem cells was published six years ago. Plus, he said, embryonic stem cell research has been restricted by Bush's policy.

I should note that I see restrictions on federal funding as a tertiary issue at best - efforts to ban theraputic cloning and restrictions at the state level have done far more damage to ongoing research. The potential pool of private and philanthropic funding is something like twice as large as that of government funding in the US - and private funding shies away from legislative threats or uncertainty.

Meanwhile, Proposition 71 continues to gather endorsements. If you're interested in seeing their current ad campaign, you can view the spots at the initiative website. The San Francisco Chronicle says:

But the potential breakthroughs in treatments and possible cures for more than 70 diseases including cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis and even spinal cord injuries, are, in our view, worth the risk.

The private sector endoses things too, but quietly and with their feet. As Chris Mooney notes:

Advanced Cell Technology is setting up a lab in California because the state is so receptive to embryonic stem cell work (including therapeutic cloning). This is just a small taste of what would happen if Proposition 71 passed in California. The initiative would, quite literally, set off the scientific equivalent of a gold rush.

ACT, you may recall, recently reported the creation of retinal cells from embryonic stem cells. (Here's the obligatory political take on that event from the Daily Kos). I was interested to see the aggressive timeline proposed by the ACT researchers - two years to get to the point of human trials. Very ambitious, and I hope they achieve that goal.


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