As debate begins today on HR 810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, this post from the archives describes how some states have had to find their own solutions for supporting embryonic stem cell research in the face of a ban on federal funding. Hopefully tomorrow’s vote will make these unnecessary.
(12 May 2006) As the federal government continues to hold on to a restrictive embryonic stem cell research funding scheme–one that prevents the use of federal funds for any research associated with new embryonic stem cell lines–others are having to take up the slack. Chris Gabrieli, a Democrat campaigning to become governor of Massachusetts, laid out his vision for the role of his state in funding the research. The plan calls for $1 billion in research funding (about half for work on stem cells) and the creation of a post for a science and technology director. Massachusetts currently has a law on the books that allows embryonic stem cell research (passed in 2005 over the veto of Republican governor Mitt Romney) but does not provide any funding.
When it comes to actually funding embryonic stem cell research, nobody can hold a candle to California. Despite the efforts of other states, none have been able to match the funding commitment approved by California voters in 2004. Bolstering the state’s efforts, UC San Francisco received $16 million this week from billionaire Ray Dolby for its Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a new research center that will feature embryonic stem cell research currently unfundable by federal sources.
Although a consistent and comprehensive national funding policy on embryonic stem cell research would be preferable to the more scattered efforts we see today, current restrictive regulations continue to preclude this possibility. As individual donors and voters continue to exert an expanding influence on specific science policy issues, the need for a truly scientifically literate public becomes increasingly clear. Improving science education should form the foundation of any improvements, but other efforts can help, including the push for open access literature. In the meantime, the push for the end of the embryonic stem cell funding ban should continue, and we shouldn’t settle for less acceptable solutions.