Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pluripotent Possibilities at Interstate Conference on Stem Cell Research

A California watchdog organization is calling for national guidelines on government-funded stem cell research that would ensure openness, transparency and accountability in the multi-billion dollar state programs.

The appeal came from John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) in Santa Monica, Ca. The organization's recommendations came as the Wall Street Journal reported on a Congressional inquiry into transparency and conflict issues in another area of government-funded science – this one involving lung cancer research.

Simpson said in a letter to the Interstate Alliance for Stem Cell Research, which begins a meeting Wednesday(Oct. 24) in Boston, that it should commit to holding public meetings for all future sessions. Simpson was ousted from a meeting of the interstate group last May in California, although he had been invited to its first session. A representative of the National Academy of Sciences, which is backing the meetings of the interstate group, told Simpson the meeting was not open to the public despite the fact that it involved public officials and public money.

Simpson commended the group for holding a public session in Boston. He said,
"I fully expect the Interstate Alliance will have a major influence on rules and regulations in all the states that are represented. That means it is imperative that the public have access to your deliberations and the ability to offer input and comments. Given the potentially contentious nature of publicly funded stem cell research, the need for the utmost transparency is even greater than would otherwise be the case."
Simpson urged the alliance to create a working group to draft model regulations to ensure openness, transparency and accountability in the various state stem cell programs. He said,
"Such a working group should go beyond members of the state stem cell agencies and include representatives of organizations committed to public access in government operations."
Simpson's letter was directed to Warren Wollschlager, chairman of the interstate group. Simpson told the California Stem Cell Report that Wollschlager said he would bring up the openness issue at the Boston meeting.

The Wall Street Journal article highlighted some of the issues involved in openness and transparency in even relatively non-controversial research, much less the heated debate over human embryonic stem cell research.

The piece by David Armstrong said that the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees medical-research issues,
"...was concerned that potential conflicts of interest 'could damage the credibility' of the decade long, $200 million National Lung Screening Trial. The results are expected to have a significant impact in standards for lung-cancer screening and who will pay for it.

"Two of the trial's principal investigators have testified as paid experts for tobacco companies facing lawsuits seeking to force them to pay for smokers' annual CT scans."
Our comment: The interstate alliance has an extraordinary opportunity to influence the ESC research activities across the country. National standards are needed. And for the foreseeable future, they are not likely to be forthcoming from our friends at the federal level. Embryonic stem cell research IS pluripotent. As it exists today with the many states involved, major opportunities exist and changes are possible in non-productive grant review processes that currently hobble creative endeavors. The growth of the state research efforts has great promise. It also has great peril -- if the state endeavors become closed-door, secret activities that enable anti-science forces to foster suspicion and fear. It would be a shame for the Interstate Alliance and the states involved in stem cell research not to take advantage of what is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to begin to chart new and better courses. Sphere: Related Content

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