How to Move Stem Cell Research Forward

Three steps that states can take now to keep embryonic stem cell research moving until federal funding laws catch up.

It’s been well over a month now since the House and Senate passed legislation that would allow the federal government—by far the largest investor in stem cell research—to spend its money on embryonic stem cell research using the most up-to-date stem cell lines. While the Senate and House have worked on drafting a conference bill to send up to the president to sign, there has been no indication that President Bush will budge and let the legislation past his desk.

President Bush has promised from the beginning that he will veto the bill, and Congress knows that it doesn’t have quite enough votes to override his decision. So where does that leave us? We can’t just wait for the president to wake up and listen to the American people; we need to keep working to advance the science now.

It’s true that the federal government is in a unique position to promote embryonic stem cell research. It provides 79.4 percent of funding for the research, is particularly suited to fund basic science, and can establish uniform regulations to ensure ethical research. And without federal backing, states end up having to spend the bulk of their money on new facilities that don’t use federal funds.

But since it doesn’t look like Bush is willing to budge, we should start thinking seriously about how to keep the science advancing now. Jonathan Moreno and Sam Berger of CAP’s Progressive Bioethics Initiative make these suggestions:

  1. Keep it Consistent. States should coordinate their guidelines to ensure collaboration and cooperation between scientists. The best model for these regulations is the National Academies Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research. The National Academies’ guidelines are kept up to date and can ensure that states stay consistent with one another until more extensive federal guidelines are enacted.
  2. Prevent Brain Drain. States should fund research using the newest embryonic stem cell lines. Even though they can’t match the federal government’s funds, they can maintain interest and opportunities for talented American scientists so they don’t go abroad to pursue their research.
  3. Make the Money Matter. States should work to make their research as valuable as possible by focusing their efforts on research that is ineligible for federal funding, encouraging collaboration between states, and working to limit research overlap.

Is this the best solution? No. Without federal funding the United States will fall behind in the race for lifesaving cures. But carrying out these three steps will help ensure that research moves forward as quickly and as ethically as possible until then.

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