U.S. Science May Have Made a Breakthrough…

In what appears to be quite a breakthough, “Harvard stem cell scientistsld by Dr. Douglas Melton, Kevin Eggan and others have claimed to regress an adult skin cell back to its stem cell phase by fusing it with an embryonic stem cell “:http://today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=scienceNews&storyID=2005-08-22T055304Z_01_DIT221123_RTRIDST_0_SCIENCE-CELLS-DC.XML.
While this may be the key to quelling this endless ethics debate about the use of unclaimed, frozen human embryos to do basic research that could save living humans, one needs to caution that good science means that this team’s work will be published (which it will) and reproduced by others. Very exciting!

As a scientist who wonders how the U.S. Federal research dollars are impacting science (as they should be), I wonder if this work was privately funded by Harvard or whether these scientists receive public NIH money. If it’s the latter, then this is an excellent example of how the investment in science by the public can lead to developments with global implications. If not, then this highlights the problem with dwindling Federal (i.e. public) investment in science – the good research would be happening independent of the public (and limited) investment, meaning that the public is missing out on being part of great science.

From the Harvard site: nice photo! Lots of math in stem cells! Never let anybody say that biology isn’t a fundamental science! Aha! The Harvard article (see the link below) answers my question:

The Harvard group obtained the starter cells by growing embryos from excess fertilized cells acquired from fertilization clinics with the owners’ permission. Using such materials, Douglas Melton, the Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, has created at least 17 new lines of embryonic stem cells using private funds (see March 4, 2004 Gazette). These are not part of the cell lines eligible for federal funding.

Bummer. Looks like the public missed out on being part of great science, since it **is** illegal to use Federal funds to use non-approved embryonic stem cell lines. This is, then, a good example of how spinning your wheels on the debate means you miss the discovery train. But as I indicated in a previous blog entry, we run the risk of having the most ethical but least advanced science of all industrialized nations if we keep this up.

(“See the whole Harvard article”:http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/daily/2005/08/22-stem.html).

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