Always falling behind

Posted by Jesse Reynolds January 23, 2009
Biopolitical Times
We regularly hear - particularly during election years - that not only is stem cell research essential to the economy of the future, but that America is falling behind due to former President Bush's funding restriction (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). But a new report concludes that the US still has the edge.
US institutes have become the dominant force in stem-cell research.... This they have achieved by creating significant critical mass by forming consortia of existing university and hospital departments without the need for time-consuming recruitment.

Of course, while this fact is likely true, this report must be taken with the same grain of salt as previous ones. After all, it was commissioned by one of the UK's leading stem cell research consortia, performed by a consulting group with heavy links to members of that consortium, and leaked to the Times Higher Education magazine, which used the headline "UK's reputation as world leader in stem-cell research challenged."

This is becoming something of a pattern: Advocates and researchers on each side of the pond attributing the potential loss of biotech (and thus economic) supremacy to some policy they dislike. In the UK, scientists recently argued that any limit on using stem cell techniques to create animal-human hybrids would be a severe blow to British science. (The practice that was approved after much political turmoil; then when particular projects were rejected for funding on scientific grounds, scientists resumed their dire warnings.) 

Here in the US, scientists have rightly criticized the Bush restriction on federal funding of stem cell research. When President Obama lifts this, will a new policy bogeyman be named?