The latest outcome in the ongoing national debate about human embryonic stem cell research is unprecedented in the history of science funding in the United States. President Bush’s recent veto of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act means that a cutting edge field of scientific inquiry will soon receive its strongest support not from the federal government, but from the states.
Although Washington provides the majority of funding for stem cell research, it refuses to permit scientists to work with new and more effective lines of human embryonic stem cells. The states have moved to fill this gap in order to allow American scientists to use the best tools in the race for life-saving cures. Yet as important and admirable as these state initiatives are, they cannot replace the leadership that would be provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Nor is a decentralized research system as efficient as the federal structure that is already in place. The differing federal and state stem cell research policies have forced states to spend the bulk of their money on building infrastructure, purchasing equipment and training scientists, not on funding actual research projects. And contrary to the impression that funding by the states of this emerging field of science is substantial, our analysis demonstrates that allocated state funding—funding designated for specific purposes—is currently modest at best and not targeted towards research that is ineligible for federal funding.
States are supporting stem cell research to the best of their abilities, but only combining their efforts with stronger federal support will truly advance stem cell research. We need to pass the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act and increase federal funding for embryonic stem cell research in order to remedy the situation and ensure the United States remains at the forefront of this major new scientific field — for the benefit of our science, our citizens, and our economy.