THE BLOG
06/20/2007 11:04 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

After Bush's Veto, What is Next for Stem Cell Research?

For the second consecutive year, President Bush is vetoing legislation
that would expand the range of human embryonic stem cell research eligible
for federal funding. The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act did not
represent a sea change in federal policy, but would have been an important
step toward making that policy a bit less hostile toward the advancement of
this incredibly promising science.

Now that it's crystal clear that federal support is not forthcoming for
at least another two years, what is next for the field of human embryonic
stem cell research?

The answer is that this work must and will
progress. And it will continue to be driven by the efforts of private
philanthropy, ideally augmented by an infusion of state government dollars.

A brief refresher on the scientific priorities involved in this issue:
the immediate scientific objective of human embryonic stem cell research is
to achieve the ability to create a "disease-in-a-dish." By observing
diabetes, Parkinson¹s and other devastating diseases at the cellular level,
it is believed that researchers could test the efficacy of potential medical
treatments far more accurately and efficiently. Cures are, of course, the
Holy Grail, but equally important may be the "happy accidents" that often
arise in the course of scientific pursuit and can result in unexpected
breakthroughs.

Opponents of this work, who represent a very small minority of
Americans, were handed a new rhetorical weapon with the announcement a
couple of weeks ago of early-stage developments in reprogramming mouse
cells. The findings are interesting, but mice aren't people. We simply
can't wait for this research to catch up to the work on human embryonic stem
cells that can -- and is -- being done right now in labs across the
country. We can't afford an "abstinence only" approach to human embryonic
stem cell research.

In the absence of federal leadership on this issue, private
philanthropy has demonstrated the ability to work with top scientific minds
to establish research priorities. Free of governmental bureaucracy, private
philanthropy has the nimbleness to get cutting-edge research initiatives off
the ground much more quickly. This is where public money can and should
come in;­ with the groundwork already established, infusions of public money
can then be strategically deployed to scale up the most promising research
projects. Private-public private partnerships are the optimal drivers of
this science, and facilitate the most impactful application of public
funding.

The public partners in this equation will be, at least for the time
being, states such as New York -- lead by Governor Spitzer and Lieutenant
Governor Paterson, and California, under Governor Schwarzenegger, that have
taken a leadership role and earmarked significant funding for stem cell
research. But the responsibility remains on organizations like the New York
Stem Cell Foundation to be the catalysts that make human embryonic stem cell
research happen.