The Uncertain Future

Uncertainty surrounding government policy on stem cell research troubles scientists

(RxWiki News) Recent ethical controversy concerning human embryonic stem cell research has created an environment of uncertainty that is impacting scientists who work with stem cells, according to a new survey.

From the Bush years to the Obama administration, the policy on stem cell research has changed. Even with Obama's positive stance on stem cell research, legal challenges to his policy have affected federal funding to scientists who study stem cells.

Dr. Aaron D. Levine, of the School of Public Policy and Institute of Bioengineering and Bioscience at Georgia Institute of Technology, was curious how the policy changes, and the uncertainty surrounding future funding, has affected scientists. In 2010, Levine conducted a survey that revealed a variety of negative outcomes caused by the uncertain policy environment.

More specifically, scientists reported many adjustments to the type or quality of work they were conducting. Scientists who participated in the survey also reported that the uncertainty was causing delays in planning new research projects and hiring new staff, as well as causing impediments to research collaborations.

In a recent legal ruling that led the federal government to briefly halt funding for stem cell research, the judge contended that the injunction would have little effect on stem cell scientists. The responses to the survey, however, would suggest otherwise. According to Dr. Levine, the survey reveals how the injunction has negatively affected the ability of scientists to conduct stem cell research.

Dr. Levine concludes by encouraging policymakers who support stem cell research to try to pass legislation that reduces the uncertainty surrounding the legality of the practice and provides a clear legal basis for federal funding of stem cell research.

The study of human embryonic stem cells is crucial to understanding how many of the most serious medical conditions develop in humans. A better understanding of stem cells could lead to cures for cancer, birth defects, and other diseases. Stem cells also offer the potential for creating new cells and tissues for the purpose of medical therapies.

Results from Dr. Levine's survey appear in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Review Date: 
February 4, 2011