Sunday, August 20, 2006

Op-ed in Hartford Courant reveals ethical problems in stem cell funding

A different twist on the Princeton study on the possibility of US stem cell researchers leaving the US is given by Jesse Reynolds:

For example, the board [in Connecticut for stem cell funding] includes Xiangzhong "Jerry" Yang, the state's premier stem cell researcher. Last year, he threatened to move his work to China if the state did not pass the funding bill. Once he was on the committee, he made it clear that he'd be seeking big bucks. He's now applied for $5 million - from his own committee.


This lack of clarity in ethical standards likely suits Professor Yang. You may remember him from 1999 as one of the animal biologists who created the first cloned cow. He now wants to create cloned human embryos, not to create cloned children, but for stem cell research. This technique may lead to relevant discoveries, but it is an ethical minefield. Just this month, a top Australian stem cell researcher said that "the ethical problem is not the embryo, it is the human egg donor ... It's a surgical technique which has had side effects in the past."

Reynolds also addresses the intellectual property issue, an area in which California has set standards in fumbling the ball, but apparently closely followed by Connecticut:

The program is moving forward with awarding grants without adequate policies in place, leaving key questions unanswered: Who will own the patents of any discoveries made with state money? Will medical treatments discovered with taxpayer dollars be available to Connecticut residents at favorable prices? How can women be responsibly recruited to provide eggs for cloning-based stem cell research? There are rough sketches of some of the answers, but the details will be hammered out after the funding decisions are made.

Of conflicts-of-interest:

Instead, in January, 2006 the [Connecticut] General Assembly simply doubled the size of the committee - and exempted it from conflict-of-interest laws.


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