Obama to overturn funding ban on embryonic stem-cell research

Saying that he wants to restore science to its rightful place in government, Barack Obama will reverse the executive order signed by George Bush banning federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research.  Ironically, the hEsc research has proven much less fruitful than the efforts on adult stem cells, which have yielded dozens of therapies and have demonstrated the ability to become as pluripotentiary as hEsc cloning:

President Barack Obama will reverse the U.S. government’s ban on funding stem-cell research today and pledge to “use sound, scientific practice and evidence, instead of dogma” to guide federal policy, an adviser said.

Harold Varmus, co-chair of a science advisory group to the President, said Obama will ask the White House Office of Science and Technology to create guidelines to incorporate ‘scientific integrity’ into decision-making by U.S. agencies. The action on stem cells, which can grow into any kind of tissue, may help speed research into cures for major illness.

Academic laboratories, led by Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and companies already using stem-cell technology, led by Geron Corp., of Menlo Park, California, could gain tens of millions of dollars in funding because of the decision. A “significant amount” of $10 billion given the National Institutes of Health in Obama’s stimulus plan will go to this area of research, Varmus said.

“We view what happened with stem-cell research in the last administration as one manifestation of the failure to think carefully about how government use of scientific advice occurs,” said Varmus, a Nobel prize winner who is president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, in a conference call with reporters yesterday. “Public policy must be guided by sound, scientific advice.”

Obama’s move hardly surprises anyone, and likely would have happened in a John McCain administration.  McCain promised to reverse the Bush restrictions as well during the campaign and spent the last few years criticizing Bush for restricting federal funding.  This was one of several points of near-agreement between Obama and McCain during the campaign.

The advocates of this policy cheer the supposed triumph of science over politics, but in truth, it’s the reverse.  Over a year ago, researchers found a way to unlock adult stem cells to have the same flexibility as hEsc lines, ie, the ability to transform into any kind of tissue.  Bush’s policy in effect pushed the government-funded research in that direction, which prompted the breakthrough.  With that process available, we have no need to grind up our offspring to cure diseases, especially since grinding up our offspring has yet to result in even one therapeutic result, despite billions of dollars of research into hEsc.  A scientific approach would dictate that we follow success instead of failure.

In fact, the market has done just that.  While some states (California being one) have provided public funds for hEsc research, most of the private money goes towards adult stem-cell research.  Why?  It’s a proven technology.  That’s one of the reasons hEsc researchers are so desperate to overturn Bush’s ban on federal funding — they can’t compete for any other funding any longer.

This decision places politics ahead of science.  People demand government funding for hEsc not because it works, but because it’s popular.  Pro-abortion activists want it as an endorsement of abortion as some sort of mechanism for scientific advance, and they’ve managed to sucker the rest into thinking that we’ll all die unless we start destroying embryos to keep us alive.  No one has offered a single scientific reason to have the federal government fund hEsc research.

Update: Science Daily reported last week on why hEsc funding is even more unnecessary (via Third Base Politics):

Mount Sinai Hospital’s Dr. Andras Nagy discovered a new method of creating stem cells that could lead to possible cures for devastating diseases including spinal cord injury, macular degeneration, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. The study, published by Nature, accelerates stem cell technology and provides a road map for new clinical approaches to regenerative medicine.

“We hope that these stem cells will form the basis for treatment for many diseases and conditions that are currently considered incurable,” said Dr. Nagy, Senior Investigator at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital, Investigator at the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine, and Canada Research Chair in Stem Cells and Regeneration. “This new method of generating stem cells does not require embryos as starting points and could be used to generate cells from many adult tissues such as a patient’s own skin cells.”

Yet another scientific reason why federal funding should go elsewhere.