Scientists ‘Divided’ Over Bush Decision
Scientists in the field of stem cell research are "divided" over President Bush's decision to provide federal funding for research conducted on existing embryonic stem cell lines, with some stating that funding with limitations is preferable to no funding and others arguing that limiting funded research to approximately 60 existing lines "might impede progress," the New York Times reports. Dr. Irving Weissman of Stanford University, a "leading" scientist in the field of blood stem cells, said, "I personally think we are better off now than we were, though we are not where we need to be. We shouldn't pooh-pooh Bush for going only so far and shouldn't think that we as scientists should be the only ones to make that decision." But Stanford University's Dr. Ben Barres, a specialist in the field of neural stem cells, said that the limitations placed on funding for stem cell research will lead to a "brain drain," with top scientists leaving the country to conduct research abroad. Barres said that other scientists will "inevitably follow" the example of Dr. Roger Pedersen, a human embryologist at University of California-San Francisco who recently decided to move to England so he could pursue work in the field of embryonic stem cell research. "I think it's a shame, and clearly it will give other countries the advantage over us," Barres said. Dr. Harold Varmus, former director of the NIH and current director of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute in New York, said that scientists "are in a more fortunate place than we might have been" if Bush had decided to bar all funding. But Varmus, who helped draft the government's guidelines for embryonic stem cell research during his tenure at NIH, wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that if embryonic stem cell research turns out to be successful, "[e]ven 100 good lines will likely be inadequate to treat our genetically diverse population without encountering immune rejection" (Wade, New York Times, 8/16).
Fifty-five percent of Americans have followed the stem cell funding issue "very" or "fairly" closely, according to the July/August edition of the Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health's Health News Index. A survey of 1,005 adults showed that 24% of participants followed the debate over funding for embryonic stem cell research "very closely" between June 25, 2001, and July 25, 2001, while 34% of participants followed the issue "fairly closely" over the same time period. When asked to identify the "major controversy" over federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, 51% said that the controversy was over the destruction of human embryos during the research process, 9% said that the controversy centered on the lack of money in the federal budget for the research, 7% cited potential danger to adult research subjects and 33% said that they did not know what was causing the controversy (Health News Index, July/August 2001).