Saturday, April 25, 2009

LA Times criticizes NIH stem cell policy

In an editorial on April 25, the Los Angeles Times wrote:

The new NIH rules would not allow the use of federal money for studying stem cell lines derived from embryos created specifically for research. Such research might involve attempts to produce genetically matched organs for transplant or stem cell lines that reflect racial and ethnic diversity.

The NIH's stance is inherently contradictory. The viewpoint of those who oppose embryonic stem cell research is that it ends human life by destroying embryos made up of just a few cells. Under that argument, the act would be just as objectionable whether those embryos already were slated for destruction or not; their being "surplus" doesn't change that. And if the destruction is not morally objectionable, then it shouldn't matter whether the embryos were created for research or another purpose.

The Obama administration sidesteps the issue by saying correctly that its draft rules reflect public opinion. That's a pragmatic approach, but not one informed mainly by science. The rules are best seen as a good start that might move public consensus toward a more comprehensive stem cell policy that includes supporting work on any stem cell lines created under ethics guidelines.

The Times does not discuss the failure of all scientists to effect human SCNT after years of research. While seeking to address a "contradiction" in the moral argument, the Times ignores the "nuts and bolts" issue. Separately, is the softball thrown towards the "pragmatic" approach.

The californiastemcellreport (which has not yet commented on the LAT piece) did remark on the possibility of pulling some CIRM grants, based on a lack of progress, in a post titled
CIRM: Some Scientists' Grants to be Pulled:

According to the transcript, he [John Robson] said,

"....(W)e get annual reviews, progress reports and our science officers go through those. And it's not a perfunctory exercise. They go through these things quite carefully. If there's things they don't understand or if it doesn't look (like) there's been much progress, they call up the PI (principal investigator) and they say, 'What's going on? You know, we've seen these experiments being done. What's your progress?' And then we work from there.

"If it turns out that there's no progress, we can cut the grant. I suspect that's going to happen. Some people are going to lose some grants."

The fact that Hwang did not achieve human SCNT has been known since December 2005, and in the intervening years, nothing has changed. If what's your progress? is the standard, there may be a lot of CIRM grants revoked.


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