Stemming the tide

Just when you thought it was safe to go into the water – a new development in the pro/anti science wars is heating things up. Yes, embryonic stem cell research is back in the news. And with this will come all the heated rhetoric — once again the vested interests on either side of the question will pit destroying life against saving lives. I have never been able to strongly support embryonic stem cell research. Why? Because I do not think stem cell research will produce cures for all the diseases for which promises are being made. SO, I think there is a serious ethical dilemma concerning stem cell research. But it differs from the one that garners all the talk. I think much of the resources spent on embryonic stem cells AS CURES – not as basic biological explorations – are being squandered. Putting too many eggs in the embryonic stem cell research basket steals attention, intellectual power, and financial support from approaches that could be much more useful and efficiacious. The wonderful thing that occured during the last decade of limited funding has been the diversity of cell types individuals have selected for study and the clever techniques that have emerged. I also think there is one sure-fired way to make certain most of the embryonic stem-cell research being done will never translate into medical treatments -let the NIH fund it. With private support – researchers promising cures will have their feet held to the fire. With hefty NIH support, stem cell research will go the way of most disease-specific experimental research carried out in vitro with cell culture and in vivo with rodent models. There are also serious ethical issues about the disconnect between what scientists promise (couched in the long inferential distances of the if, if, then, if, if, then… arguments) versus what patient groups hear and consequently expect. Private funders – particularly those that are disease-specific charities – have a real role to play in bringing the important issues to the fore and refocusing the discussions on what really matters scientifically and practically.