Stem cell research: Is the US in danger of falling hopelessly behind?

I was reading this article today and it really got me to thinking. Appearently the UK is blazing ahead on allowing the cloning of human embryo to facilitate stem cell research in combating a host of diseases.

Some interesting things from the article to digest:

It got me to thinking of the old Soviet Union and its fucked up biology and genetics programs (if I remember correctly from the '30’s) that put them years behind…for political reasons. And of course the US. Are we falling into the same trap, and if so what will this cost us in the long run? On this point more than nearly any other I totally and completely disagree with the Bush administration and I fear that for political reasons the US might be doomed to fall hopelessly behind the rest of the world as they blaze ahead of us on this fronteer.

Thoughts? Anyone want to debate if stem cell research isn’t a good thing? Any comments on what ramifications this might have on the US long term? Feel free to debate or argue any aspect of stem cell research, from the purely scientific to the political. Appearently Kerry is for stem cell research and has promised to repeal Bush’s prohibitions…is this true? If so it would be a genuine silver lining for a Kerry presidency (from my perspective).


John Kerry does support lifting the ban on stem cell research.

Considering how close American and British scientists are, why not just let them do it and avoid political fallout? If it’s the road to the future, it’ll be paved no matter what side of that road you drive on. Personally, I hope it is the cure to many ills, but the ethics are still such a sticky point in the US, it may be best to let the Brits do this. Besides, what’s wrong with a little glory going to our brothers across the Pond?

Well, for one thing, our economy has historically benefitted quite a bit from the fact that we have long led the way in cutting edge research. For example, perhaps you’ve heard of the computer. Medical and biotech research is going to continue to be a huge industry, especially if stem cell research does in fact make a large number cures and treatments possible that are currently unavailable. We currently have the world’s best scientific infrastructure already in place. Why deliberately pass up the benefits of this technology so that a vocal minority of people can feel better about aborted embryos being thrown in the trash instead of used for research? The long-term health of our country is far more important than short-term political fallout.

I just posted about this subject yesterday on another forum, and I don’t have time at the moment to restate it as it applies directly to this thread, so feel free to read my other reply here. Also feel free to join in the debate over there, of course :slight_smile:

Am I mistaken here? I know(I think) that cloning of embryos is banned in the Us but isn’t stem cell research still ok. Isn’t the argument about Gov’t funding of such research?

Just to clarify… the current law does not **prohibit ** stem cell research in the US, just the **federal ** funding for such research. States and/or private organizations can fund stem cell research.

Yeah, you can still do research, it just can’t be government funded. Thats how I understand it anyway. Government funding is a large part of medical advancements though, i don’t know an actual percentage but i think its around 30% as a WAG.

US federal funding for stem cell research is restricted to certain lines of stem cells from already destroyed embryos (I forget how many off the top of my head…100?). Yes, private companies using their own funds can continue stem cell research in the US (afaik anyway)…however, to make real breakthroughs (the arguement goes) you need federal funding. And stem cells could be the next really big breakthrough, potentially curing or at least treating a host of diseases and genetic defects…and even (perhaps) increasing longevity. And without the US government funding its possible that the US could fall behind significantly on this crucial area of research. Thats the debate. :slight_smile:


Yes, I know. My OP was probably poorly stated. Sorry.


I forgot to add… Is this really a debate? If the US government doesn’t fund this research, and other governments do, is it any doubt that we will “fall behind”? Th real questions might be: if it’s done in another country, how quickly could we “catch up” and how much money would we save… I’d expect the answers would be: very quickly and a lot.

Well, feel free to debate any of these from the OP then John. :slight_smile:

You are right, it probably is a no brainer that the US will fall behind if other countries fund research and the US only funds limited research. There are other aspects to this that might be an interesting debate though. If the mods don’t think its a debate worthy subject they are welcome to toss this in IMHO or whatever.


I don’t know. The US has 5x as many people as the UK. that should translate into 5x as many scientists, 5x as much funding, etc. Even though US scientists lose out on federal grants they still have private funding and state funding, and there are more scientists in the US than in the UK. So i don’t think we will fall too far behind any country. Unless the EU works cooperatively on stem cell research, then we will fall behind.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that.

I’m all for stem cell research and all against government funding of any research. But as long as we ARE funding research, we might as well use some of the money for stem cell research. However, it other countries are willing to pick up the tab, I’m a lot less concerned.

I do, however, understand that religious people will have strong objections to this. If I were a practicing Christian, I’d be against it, too.

It does not appear that Bush is in sync with the American public on this issue. See these poll results.

Not necessarily. Lots of practicing Christians (like Nancy Reagan) are for it.

Letting someone else do it first is fine, unless they get the basic patents, and the critical mass of researchers. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t get the medical benefits, unless the same people opposed to the research attempt to ban cures made from the immoral stem cells, that is. But it is likely that US companies would not make money off of the research.

Anyone can design computers anywhere -. but those doing it in Silicon Valley have a big advantage.

BTW, California is considering an initiative to fund stem cell research here through a bond issue. I don’t know the details, but it would be nice if people making money off the funding would pay the state back.

I mispoke. Should have been “some religious people”. I didn’t mean to imply that all religious people would oppose this.

And most of that design is funded privately.

Here’s a good discussion. NPR audio file.

Now it is. But much of the preliminary work was heavily government funded. Not just Arpanet, but one of the first languages for describing circuits at a high level was part of the DoD funded VHSIC program. Sematech was half funded by the government when it started. I think that investment got paid back manyfold, both in revenue from taxes on the electronics industry, but also in the ability to make smart weaponry.

How much does Medicare pay for the treatment of Alzheimer’s patients? I bet you could do a good business case for funding stem cell research on that basis alone. And some very generic open research, and more competition, will make things cheaper for everyone.

You know the optimal health care scenario right - everyone stays perfectly healthy until they drop over dead at 100 or something (like the One-Hoss Shay.) Could save us tons of money in taxes.

The number of viable stem cell lines certainly was never close to 100. Bush claimed there were 60, but very few people agreed with that. Never let it be said that Bush let science get in the way of policy.

Tommy Thompson estimates that there are 24 or 25. Others, such as scientists, estimate that there may be 12.

If you want to look at this from purely a technological standpoint, the US will fall far behind in what will be an incredibly lucrative area. Imagine how much money will be made by the company that can cure diabetes, Parkinsons or even paralysis.

However, we will all fall “far behind” in that the US is one of the world’s leaders in research and technology, and sitting on the sidelines means that we are not helping to advance the ball. Science is collaborative, and something that we might have said about our ongoing research at a conference would probably spark an idea in someone else’s mind that breaks the whole thing open. This move is incredibly devastating to the advance towards these cures.

There is another problem with the “let them develop the technology.” Don’t forget that the Republicans not only want to prohibit therapeutic cloning, but they want to ban the importation of products derived from this procedure. If a cure is developed through this process, and the Republicans have their way, we will not be able to be cured, at least not here in the US. Do you think the medical systems of the rest of the world are ready for a migration of Americans to their countries for treatment. Is that what you want to have to do?

Here is the text of HR 534 which the US House passed. Fortunately, this language did not get through the Senate. Yet.

I think the issue here is patents. The first to research genuinely productive new fields usually yields a lot of intellectual property which is declared off-limits for at least 30 years to those wihtout a license to intrude upon that monopoly. Joining the race late tends to yield far less useful patents.