Article

Bringing Science Back to the Forefront

Panelists at CAP event discuss a new report on stem cells and how the new administration can move forward ethically while bringing American research back to the cutting edge.

Report: A Life Sciences Crucible: Stem Cell Research and Innovation Done Responsibly and Ethically

Timeline: A Brief History of Stem Cell Research

Event information: A Life Sciences Crucible

“Stem cell research is a cutting-edge component of our nation’s basic science infrastructure and it is that infrastructure which gives rise to innovation, wealth creation, and an enhanced quality of life for all Americans,” said Michael J. Rugnetta at an event today to release his new report, “A Life Sciences Crucible: Stem Cell Science and Innovation Done Responsibly and Ethically.” The event panel discussed what the incoming administration can do during its first 90 days that to bring science back to the forefront of the national agenda and how it can help stem cell research move forward ethically and responsibly.

The greatest potential for embryonic stem cell research lies in scientists’ ability to tap into the process of cell differentiation and development. In other words, scientists need to study cells from the beginning of their life cycle in order to understand the benefits that this research may provide. Embryonic stem cells—also called “pluripotent,” or all-purpose —provide the perfect canvas to study this growth.

Stem cell research is crucial to the advancement of regenerative medicine, a therapeutic approach that works by cultivating a small sample of a patient’s own cells and reprogramming them. Medical professionals can in this way curb the risk and severe side effects that usually result from foreign organ transplants by using cells from a patient’s own body.

Panelists emphasized that it is vital that the incoming administration take a firm stance on stem cell research and its place within federal biomedical research funding. They spoke about moving past the policies of the last eight years into a new era of ethically responsible—and scientifically strong—principles. According to the CAP report, President-elect Obama has multiple options, but should probably issue either an executive order or a presidential memorandum outlining the new federal guidelines for the funding of stem cell research.

Panelist Amy Comstock Rick, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, argued that Obama must be careful not to simply replace Bush’s guidelines with another set of his own in order to guarantee that a future president cannot undo these policies again. Funding decisions must be explicitly placed within the regulatory hands of the National Institutes of Health to ensure that federal funding of stem cell research is normalized and receives the same vetting process as any other biomedical research.

Panelist John Gearhart, Director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, commented on Rick’s citation of a survey reporting that 73 percent of Americans believe that Obama should fulfill his campaign promise of lifting the ban on federal funding of stem cell research. It is important, Gearhart added, to show the other 27 percent that all federal funding of stem cell research will be done in an ethically responsible and morally principled fashion. Much of the apprehension among Americans opposed to stem cell research comes from reservations surrounding the derivation of embryos used in the labs. Both Rick and Gearhart agreed that Obama must codify ethical guidelines that ensure there will be no financial inducements for embryo donations.

The panelists also agreed that the success of any new stem cell research program depends on transparency and congressional oversight. As the number of Americans that can benefit from stem cell research increases—currently almost 300 million—public expectation may grow exponentially. Gearhart said that research achievements must be held to the scientific community’s expectations, not just the expectations of politicians or the public.

Report: A Life Sciences Crucible: Stem Cell Research and Innovation Done Responsibly and Ethically

Timeline: A Brief History of Stem Cell Research

Event information: A Life Sciences Crucible