Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A logistical nightmare for science

The L.A. Times explores the consequences of the Bush stem cell limits:
For biologist Meri Firpo, the controversy over human embryonic stem cells boils down to pens.

In one of her laboratories — the one that gets government money to study federally approved stem cells — researchers are required to use Paper Mate Flexgrips.

Just across the hall is a nearly identical laboratory set up with private funds so she can study new embryonic stem cell lines that do not have President Bush's seal of approval. Firpo requires lab workers there to use Uni-balls to make sure no federally funded pen finds its way into forbidden territory.

It's an admittedly peculiar situation, but Firpo, a professor at the University of Minnesota, said she was not taking any chances. A willful violation of federal policy could make her liable for criminal and civil penalties. Even a mistake might imperil federal grants for her lab — and for the rest of the university.

Bush's embryonic stem cell policy, which now restricts federal support to research involving about 20 cell lines, has created a logistical nightmare for science.
The article goes on to describe the various ways that researchers are trying to figure out how to navigate the unspecified consequences of the Bush stem cell policy. I'm sure bioethicists are still trying to figure out the moral reasoning that justifies it (all embryos after some arbitrary date are life, those before that date weren't?).

We've seen that the approved stem cells have various problems and may be developing more. No line of cells is immortal, and as the older lines age, they get more and more fragile.

Researchers in other countries will advance this science, and will do so without the oversight and ethical guidelines established by the NIH. Meanwhile, researchers here will either build two separate labs or simply do as much as possible with the President's lines and then twiddle their thumbs.