Our friend and colleague, Art Caplan, does a keen job in his MSNBC column of dissecting the issues surrounding the latest breakthrough in stem cell research, which has been a leading news story everywhere, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and Nature. He advises that doctors and funders shouldn't put all their embryos in one basket, so to speak. He makes several good points, encouraging the Congress to pass the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007. I think it is important to note that Congress and the Administration, if they are serious, should be pouring money into all aspects of stem cell research -- adult, umbilical, and embryonic. Each type of cell has its advantages and disadvantages, from what my research colleagues tell me -- adult stem cells, which are not as pluripotent, communicate well and integrate fairly well with surrounding cells. Embryonic stem cells, while very pluripotent, tend to act as 'wild cards', and we are still learning how keep them from growing out of control. And umbilical cord stem cells are somewhere in-between, but you don't hear much about them in the media, possibly because there doesn't seem to be funding or encouragement for research using umbilical cord stem cells. Could that be because the private biobanking business has cornered the market on these, encouraging parents to freeze and store their babies' cords for a mere $3000? (not to mention to yearly storage fee). While the Institute of Medicine recommended setting up public banking of cord blood last year, little has been done to implement that recommendation.
If this Administration sincerely wanted to help individuals with debilitating diseases, and further research in the interest of public health and welfare, and make significant progress, it would have sanctioned and funded public biobanking and research on umbilical cord stem cells a long time ago. But it is easier it seems, to deflect the issue, cloaking it in simplistic sound bites. Or to distract us to seemingly more pressing issues like the war on terror, although the debilitating chronic diseases we battle everyday as health care providers are a greater threat to our lives (and our quality of life) than terrorism. What really what it boils down to is a question of priorities.
[Image courtesy the ALS Association]
Addendum 06/08/2007: The House has voted to pass the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 with a vote of 247/176/10, not enough votes to override a presidential veto.