California's Stem Cell Research Program—The Rest of the Story

In yesterday’s post I wrote that the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) announced the awarding of $45 million to medical researchers in many of California’s research centers, universities and institutes. However, the money for the grants was “borrowed money.” About $80 million in grants are expected to be announced next month. The CIRM was created through Proposition 71 in the Fall of 2004. However, the program has been challenged in the courts thereby preventing the CIRM from using the $350 per annum allocated to the program over the next ten years from being used. Instead, the Governor “borrowed” $150 million to keep the program alive, and allow the CIRM to send out RFP’s and initiate the grant program. After the next round of grants, California will be the number 1 provider of research on stem cells.

The U.S. Congress passed legislation that would have allowed Federal agencies to fund stem cell research. However, the bill was vetoed by Bush, thereby limiting the scope of research funded by the U.S. government.

The controversy around whether governments should fund stem cell research is one that science teachers might want to consider bringing into their life science and biology courses. One way of exploring the controversy is through the method of case study analysis. The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science Case Collection is a powerful source to find a case and use it in the classroom. It has organized a collection of science cases by topic areas. If you go to their home page, you can peruse their collection. There are several biological categories.

I found one that you might use to get you started. It’s entitled Saving Superman: A Look into Stem Cell Research, and was written by Lisa M Rubin, University of Buffalo. As Rubin points out in the introduction to her case study, it was Christopher Reeves’ establishment of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR) whose explicit goal is to raise funds for stem cell research across the globe. Her case highlights the nature of stem cells, and also helps students deal with questions such as: What consequences could arise by leaving future research unregulated in the private sector or by completely banning it? What do you think are some advantages or disadvantages to having federally regulated research?

Another case you might look at is The Case of Eric, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and Stem Cell Research. This case also includes some very powerful links to articles and websites on stem cell research.

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University