Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Low Hanging Fruit vs. Embryonic Stem Cell Research

"Scientists want to be free," according to the New York Times, which reports that the California stem cell agency is going to have to sort through conflicting agendas involving patient groups and scientists as it dispenses billions of dollars in stem cell research funds.

Reporter Nicholas Wade wrote Tuesday about the agency's stem cell conference earlier this month, extensively quoting Zach Hall, CIRM's president.

"Perhaps his most formidable problem is that the public's hopes for immediate success run high," said Wade, "but scientists at the conference warned that many basic problems with human embryonic stem cells remained to be solved - a sign that no therapeutic use of the cells is likely for years. Underlining that caution, few companies are in the cell therapy field and venture capitalists have shown little interest, some speakers complained."

Wade continued, "Because of the pressure for quick progress, several scientists urged Dr. Hall to focus on the 'low hanging fruit,' meaning research with the adult stem cells like the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. Bone marrow transplantation has been developed into a routine though still hazardous therapy that can now treat eight diseases and could be extended to more, said Dr. Robert S. Negrin, chief of the Stanford blood and marrow transplant program.

"The idea of seeking quick gains from adult stem cells was resisted by some patients' advocates who said the intent of Proposition 71 was to focus on the research with human embryonic stem cells that the federal government cannot support.

"The new institute will have to sort through other conflicting agendas. Scientists want to be free to follow long-term goals, and some voiced the fear that patients' advocates would seek to force short-term solutions or channel the most money to the diseases with the most sufferers."

Wade did not really discuss the role of the Oversight Committee in making decisions about research strategy. Nor did he spend much time on the role of stem cell chairman Robert Klein. His name was only mentioned once in the piece in the New York Times, which has rarely reported on CIRM. Chalk up the Times' attention to the staging of the international stem cell conference, which was partially aimed at generating this sort of article, among other many other things. Sphere: Related Content

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