Issue Date: October 19, 2009
Stem Cell Research Policy
I'd like to add to Britt Erickson's article "Guilding Stem Cell Research" describing how new National Institutes of Health guidelines that went into effect on July 7 exclude federally funded research using human embryonic stem cells created through a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer (injection of donor DNA into a host egg) or stem cells derived from unfertilized human eggs (C&EN, July 13, page 8). These guidelines exclude these two important techniques because of the argument that, as former president George W. Bush said, "We should not as a society grow life to destroy it. It's morally wrong in my opinion."
Imagine walking into an in vitro fertilization clinic with your child when a life-threatening fire erupts within the room. In the laboratory freezer are 100 human embryos. Do you run to the freezer to save the 100 embryos or do you grab your child by the hand and exit for safety? The point is that anyone would save the human and let the small cluster of cells (so small they fit on the head of a pin) called the embryo perish in the fire. The difference is that we choose something human versus a cluster of living cells.
As a stem cell researcher and entrepreneur, I believe our public policy should also emphasize the good of humans over the worry about whether we might destroy a small cluster of living cells. Stem cells for the benefit of humans include some of my own work using stem cells for tissue repair in burn victims and in neurodegenerative diseases. It also includes the work of large and small biotech companies such as Geron Corp., which had the first FDA-approved study of spinal cord injury using stem cell therapy. A logical and moral policy including the two now-disallowed techniques would greatly benefit many of my colleagues at the University of California, San Diego; UC Irvine; and other prestigious institutions where researchers and clinicians are working hard to discover new therapies for some of the world's most debilitating diseases.
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