Since the recent bill proposed by the Senate to support embryonic stem cell research through NIH funding, and the subsequent veto by the President, considerable discussion has ensued from each side of the issue. Today’s issue of Time Magazine has as its featured story, Stem Cells: The Hope and the Hype. The article explores the science of stem cell research, as well as the hype around the issue. It’s informative and worth reading.
Here are couple of points that might interesting in light of this issue.
FUNDING. In the USA, about 94 billion dollars is spent on medical research annually (figures are based on 2003 data). When I looked into this, I found that the NIH and the Pharmaceutical Industry contribute about equal amounts, $26.4 billion and $27 billion, respectively. In fiscal year 2005, NIH will fund $28.49 billion. Where does the rest of the funding come from. Biotechnology companies ($17.9 billion–19%); medical device companies ($9.2 billion–10%); and foundations and charitable groups ($2.7 billion –3 %–with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation leading the way–this could increase given the fact that Warren Buffet will be giving Gates about $35 billion over the next several years). The government is clearly a major player in the medical research enterprise. From data that I have seen, in 2004, about $25 MILLION was allocated to stem cell research by the NIH stem cell research program.
So only a very small amount of funding comes from the Federal government. California is leading the way in spending on stem cell research . Citizens voted on and approved the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and plans to invest $300 million/annually for the next ten years to stem cell research. New Jersey, Connecticut, and Illinois have invested millions into funding stem cell research. This puts the NIH to shame, as far as funding is concerned.
ENVIRONMENT FOR RESEARCH. What is the best environment for scientific research? Is it done best when politicians hover over the shoulders of scientists, and even “edit” their scientific papers so that the results fit in with preconceived positions and views? Or is science best done within the parameters of the scientific community, with its checks and balances through peer review and open communication? Or is is somewhere in the middle? One quote from the Time Magazine article that fits here is this: “When it comes to such an impossibly complicated matter as stem cells, the best role for legislators and Presidents may be neither to steer the science nor to stall it but to stand aside and let it breathe.” It appears that the trend setters for scientific research might be centered in bellweather states such as California, New Jersey and Illinois, not the Federal government.