Monday, January 09, 2006

Why Whales Migrate

When two U.S. scientists decided to take their research to Singapore last fall, one Stanford stem cell researcher called it a "loss for America."

The two are Neal Copeland and Nancy Jenkins. They left the National Institute of Cancer in Maryland and rejected a pitch from Stanford as well before deciding to depart for Asia.

They said they would have moved to California if funds were available from the state's stem cell agency. Writers Sara Webb and Mia Shanley of Reuters recently explored more of the couple's reasons for leaving the Home of the Free and the Land of the Brave. They included "restrictions on government funding for stem cell research, shrivelling grants and curbs on commercial spin-offs from their work such as consulting and other fees," the scientists told Reuters.

The news agency reported:
"'The amount of money going towards research is going down. It doesn't have a high priority (in the United States). In Singapore it does," said Copeland, adding that they would like to exploit some of their Singapore-funded research commercially.
"Copeland and Jenkins said they had been won over by Singapore's scientific freedom, deep pockets and interest in commercial applications, at a time when the U.S. government's National Cancer Institute in Maryland -- where they worked for 20 years -- began a clamp down on consulting work by its scientists."
The story continued:
"In an era where funding is critical -- even a microscope can cost half a million dollars -- wealthy Singapore has the money.
"That, say scientists, has been Singapore's attraction, along with speedy grant approvals and lack of burdensome paperwork.
"'We don't want to spend the rest of our lives writing grants,' said Copeland, adding that Singapore's quick access to funding was key. The couple's colony of 20,000 mice costs some $1 million a year to maintain."

Singapore is currently engaged in a major recruitment drive to attract top scientists – "whales"-- as part of a multi-billion dollar biomedical research effort. Last fall reporter Lisa Krieger of the San Jose Mercury News wrote about the couple's decision. Irving Weissman, director of Stanford's Institute for Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine, told Krieger:

"'It is a loss for Stanford and a loss for America,' Weissman said. 'Without a doubt, they are the best people I know to find out which genes are altered to cause cancer.
"'When they do their work, it will be for Singapore,' he said. 'They'll conduct their clinical trials in Singapore. The first place their work will be patented and used will be Singapore.'"
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