Monday, October 10, 2005

The Bee: Stem Cell Conference Wise, But CIRM Leaders Still Bogus on Disclosure

The Sacramento Bee does not find many matters to be pleased about concerning the California stem cell agency.

Editorially it has been been a frequent and vociferous critic. But during the weekend, it wrote approvingly about the $215,000 stem cell conference earlier this month. That was the one with the secret budget that we wrote about earlier.

The Bee called the session "one of the wisest expenditures we've seen yet from this agency." The conference "exposed the challenges researchers face in studying embryonic stem cells, which have the ability to develop into any tissue and organ of the body."

As an example, The Bee wrote, "Say that scientists find a stem cell cure for Type 1 diabetes, which afflicts 1 million Americans. How do you mass-produce the billions of islet cells needed to treat these people? Should that be a private or public enterprise? If it is private, will only the rich be able to afford it?"

The editorial continued, "Unfortunately, in assembling a series of panel discussions that were broad in scope, conference organizers ignored any discussion of the many ethical quandaries that confront this field. One key question is how research institutes will ensure that women aren't exploited, or put at undue risk, when they donate eggs and embryos for research. Similar concerns surround people who may one day volunteer for experimental - and potentially risky - stem cell therapies.

"At the moment, lawsuits have blocked the stem cell institute from distributing grant money, so these issues may seem premature. They are not. During this period of limbo, institute leaders would be smart to deal with all outstanding concerns about the institute's operations, so they can hit the ground running if and when they have money to spend.

"Speaking of outstanding concerns, it was heartening to hear scientists publicly disclose their business relationships during presentations at the conference. For months, institute leaders have claimed that scientists wouldn't want to serve as advisers if they had to publicly reveal their economic interests. Last week's confab, once again, proved such claims are completely bogus."

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