The Basics of Stem Cell Research and the Role of the US Government
NIH guide to Stem Cell Research • Stem Cell Basics • http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/
Briefly tell us a bit about yourself, your career path over the years, and specifically what led you to the work on Stem Cells at the NIH.
If you could as concisely as possible define the current debate about the use of stem cells in research and disease treatment?
What stem cell research is ineligible for NIH funding, and how has the lack of this funding impacted the progress of stem cell research? How does the NIH monitor and directly regulate this research?
Follow up question by Jana Azar: Are the unused fetuses from IVF clinics ever actually going to be used for anything? What is stopping stem cell researcher from using these to generate new lines? The Government or the donors? Do you think the current policy not to use these potentially soon to be discarded embryos is well informed?
Follow up question by Cecilia Flores: In comparison to other countries, how “open minded” is the US when it comes to stem cell research? Are other countries ahead of us in their findings?
Do you foresee a potential time when stem cell therapy will be a viable option for Americans? What has to happen between now and then for that to occur? What kinds of roadblocks do you see to this progress, including public policy and public opinion?
Ethically, the definition of “stem cell” is critical. Could you explain the distinction between totipotency and pluripotency in terms of current government regulations, and in your opinion, how has the distinction between the two led to much of the stem cell debate? Will government-funding regulations lead to scientists labeling cells as pluripotent dishonestly or alter these definitions in some manner?
When I think about the prospect of being able to eliminate unwanted traits and choose favorable traits that a person might have, I can’t help but think of Nazi Germany. Does the government see this as misuse, and if so, is there a governmental list of some kind noting what types of genetic tinkering cannot be done with recombinant DNA technology and embryonic stem cells? In short, are there regulations in place to prevent this technology to be misused to create a group of people with “superior” traits?
Follow up question: What evolutionary repercussions do you believe will result from manipulating germ lines to introduce heritable genetic mutations into humans? Are these “designer” babies even possible to predict with respect epigenetic considerations? Do you think that this is a door that should be opened?
The ethical debates surrounding stem cell research, nuclear transfer technology, artificial chromosomes and germ line manipulations is a prime example of how ethics influences science. Do you believe the debate is a healthy way to “check and balance” the scientific community, or are the ethical concerns and government regulations simply an impediment to the future of stem cell technology?
Amazingly somatic cells can be reprogrammed into ES like cells capable of generating viable mouse chimeras and founder lines. In fact, Dr. Jaenisch informed us of a paper in press in science from his lab showing the use of iPS cells from a sickle cell mouse model can be reengineered with the appropriate sickle cell gene and those cells when transplanted back into the mouse model cure the disease! Given these recent successes in reprogramming do you think research with reprogrammed cells will soon replace ES cell research?
Followup question: Do you think that the government restrictions on ES cell use have in fact helped the field of ES cell research since it has forced them to develop alternative approaches like reprogramming, which they otherwise probably wouldn’t have pursued?
To avoid the controversy and unknowns about embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent cells, is it feasible or reasonable to focus research on existing adult stem cells for therapies? What kind of research is currently being done on adult stem cells? What are their limitations as compared to ES or iPS cells?
What exactly are the differences between Embryonic Stem Cells and those derived from the umbilical cord? Do cord blood cells have the same potential as ES cells, potential for therapies, and also the same potential to form tumors?
Do you believe that stem cell research be a main focus of our government’s research funds, what makes stem cells more promising than nanotechnology research, or biomedical engineering? If we learn to engineer artificial tissues and organs or fix damaged tissues through nanotechnology, it doesn’t seem that stem cells would be necessary. Do you believe we are closer to finding solutions through stem cell therapies than through these types of therapies?
It is clear that research in the next couple of years will push the use of human ES or iPS cells in primates and probably lead to the generation of human-primate chimeras. Can you please define what the ethical concern is about generating human chimaeras? Is it due to the next generation breeding? I see this as a requirement in the steps of research progression before stem cells can be used on humans to treat disease, so how will this be dealt with on the governmental and policy level?
Stem cell research is a hot issue for researchers, and new results are being published weekly. Is it possible that researchers are not putting out the best quality of work possible? For instance, in 2001 there was a flurry of science and nature publications about the transdifferentiation of Bone Marrow Derived Stem Cells into cells of multiple tissues, but that was soon suggested to be due to Cell fusion over differentiation. And of course there was the blatant fabrications of human SCNT by Dr. Hwang in South Korea. Do you see the excitement of this research as being potentially harmful for science and ultimately slow down the progress of stem cell research? Do you see any evidence that scrutiny of this research has been heightened?
Funding for stem cell research was a major issue at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 with a speech about its necessity by Ronnie Reagan, and with the upcoming national elections, it will certainly be a political issue again. What role do you feel the media has played in helping or hindering stem cell research? And what candidate for the upcoming election do you believe would do the most for the advancement of scientific research?
In the next 10 years what changes do you see occurring in Governmental regulations of stem cells, and what potential areas of discover in stem cell research are you excited about that may actually happen?