MadSci Network: Cell Biology

Re: Government funding of stem cell research?

Date: Tue Dec 14 13:42:56 2004
Posted By: Pamela Norton, Assoc. Prof. of Microbiol. and Immunol.
Area of science: Cell Biology
ID: 1093392218.Cb

A great deal has been published about potential benefits of stem cell research; I will just offer 
pointers to some relevant resources. First of all, "stem cell research" is an extremely broad area. 
For instance, work on hematopoietic stem cells (blood stem cells) has been proceeding for many 
years. Funding in the US and elsewhere has come from both governmental and private sources, 
the latter including both non-profit and for-profit entities. A number of the diseases that are 
currently treated with stem cells that have been harvested from the bone marrow of donors can 
be seen here:

Most of the controversy at present centers around the narrower subject of human embryonic 
stem cells. The US federal government at present funds rather little of this work and restricts 
such work on human ES cells to a limited number of cell lines which are known to be flawed. 

For an excellent summary of stem cells and their uses and potential, go to:


In brief, the potential benefits are likely to be great, as they have proven to be to date with bone 
marrow-derived cells, but of even more wide-ranging consequence.  A lot more research will be 
needed on both embryonic and adult stem cells before they will be of therapeutic value because 
we just don't know enough about these cells yet. In particular, adult stem cells are less 
ethically controversial, but are scientifically controversial, as they are still in the process of being 
validated experimentally in mice. The advantages to government funding or research are that 
results will be made widely available and not be proprietary to a single company. This should 
facilitate progress. Perhaps more importantly, the private sector is not directing large resources 
toward the type of basic research still needed, as any potential financial payoff is too far in the 
future. Thus, lack of funding from governmental entities will indeed slow progress.

These issues are discussed in a report prepared by a Committee commissioned by the National 
Academies of Science, Medicine and Engineering. The report as well as a summary of the 
committee's findings are available online:

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