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Divided We Fail: The Need for National Stem Cell Funding

An Analysis of State and Federal Funding for Stem Cell Research

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States have made valiant attempts to advance stem cell research, but they cannot replace federal support. States lack the revenue, infrastructure, and incentives to properly promote basic research on their own, especially with federal policies that limit collaboration, impede their funding, and fail to provide guidelines for moving forward with research.

The federal government needs to update its stem cell policy to fund the best science using ethically derived stem cell lines, establish uniform regulations, increase overall support for the field, and dedicate more funding to embryonic stem cell research. The federal government provides the lion’s share of funding for stem cell research—79.4 percent through 2007—and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The federal government will even spend more specifically on embryonic stem cell research than the states, meaning that unless we update our stem cell policy, at least 55 percent of the funding currently designated for embryonic stem cell research through 2018 will go to research on outdated stem cell lines.

Our national stem cell policy also forces states to waste money building new laboratories and purchasing new equipment. So far, states have only spent a paltry 15 percent of their funding on actual research. And even though infrastructure costs decrease over time, states will still spend at least 29 percent of their money on infrastructure, equipment, and other non-research expenditures through 2018.

Allowing states to drive stem cell research also means that each state will develop its own research standards, potentially leading to a patchwork quilt of regulations that discourages collaboration and slows research. States also have less incentive to coordinate research support, which will cause research overlap and waste. And states will likely spend money on research expected to yield quick returns, not the basic research that is needed to advance the field.

States are doing their part, and should continue aggressively funding embryonic stem cell research while striving to have uniform research standards and little research overlap in different states. But their efforts are not enough; funding for embryonic stem cell research by the federal and state governments is only 20.6 percent of all the money spent on stem cell research.

Our outdated stem cell policy remains a national problem requiring a national solution. By adopting uniform research standards and supporting research on any ethically derived stem cell lines, the federal government can provide the strong leadership needed to advance the science and fulfill the promise of stem cells.

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