Can and should states be the primary supporters of stem cell research? A few months ago, Sam Berger of the Center for American Progress argued in a debate with Jim Fossett, Co-Director of the State and Bioethics Program at the Alden March Bioethics Institute, that they could and should not. Recent events continue to highlight the problems with relying on states to drive biomedical research, particularly controversial research, as they lack the infrastructure and resources to do so effectively.
An article that appeared last week in the LA Times highlights some of the issues states now face in advancing stem cell research. It focuses first on Missouri, where conservatives opposed to embryonic stem cell research have made repeated attempts to prohibit or slow research since the passing of a constitutional amendment in 2006 intended to protect the science. These efforts have discouraged biotech investors and scientists.
The article also discusses problems in other states, including efforts to overturn previous stem cell gains in Connecticut, Maryland, and Illinois. Since most states appropriate money annually, the opportunities for opponents to create mischief are frequent.
California has meanwhile finished a lengthy court battle that had tied up its stem cell bond money, although loans allowed grant allocations to go forward. And the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s problems finding a new president, as well as the many questions it is facing about the allocation of construction grants, shows the difficulty of recreating the research wheel at the state level. Connecticut has also had problems in creating and implementing its research review and funding allocation infrastructure, although these issues are being or have been addressed.
None of this is meant to degrade the work being done in the states, which is particularly important as federally funded scientists continue to languish under onerous restrictions. But rather than be satisfied with temporary victories in the states, stem cell activists should concentrate on pushing compromise efforts at the national level over the next two years, such as the stop-gap measure proposed by Sens. Harkin (D-IA) and Specter (R-PA) in the wake of the Bush veto, and ratcheting up the political pressure on presidential candidates to ensure that the next White House will speed rather than impede stem cell research.
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