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July 23, 2005


The economic and medical benefits to stem cell research are there.

BushCo want to take the country backwards or at least, prevent it from moving forward.

What they're doing on the stem cell issue is not a surprise.

won't work. Standing in the way of progress is standing in the way of a freight train. It's not even a moral victory, just a messy clean-up.

I haven't been following this, but it surprised me that a Republican from Delaware of all places was lead sponsor of the bill. Any insights there?

CA, MA, and NY have all taken leads in adopting state-sponsored financing of stem cell research, which makes sense because biology is concentrated in the SF bay area, LA, and San Diego; Boston; and New York City; (also Seattle, though I haven't heard of any similar moves in WA which may be surprising in itself; Baltimore, New Haven, and Princeton should be mentioned in this list too.)

But Delaware? They've got Merck, and a ton of other smaller chemical & biotech firms. But obviously it is stem cell research with public funds that's illegal now -- nothing that really affects the private companies. What's going on here?

All I can think of is that he's a Republican, so he may actually believe stem cells in a dish DO constitute "life," and he's from Delaware, so he probably thinks that he'll be able to issue them millions of tiny tiny credit cards. Is that it?

See previous coverage here. Just about every state with a university want a green light on this. Some of the biggest proponents are in the midwest, including MO, not exactly a hotbed of blue state thinking. But stem cells are good for business.

As for republicans, note stem cells passed the House over the objections of leadership, who didn't want to embarrass Bush.

Thanks. I'd like to read more. I didn't see any previous articles in your link related to state-by-state clamoring for stem cell funding. (Don't get me wrong, you have covered the topic well. But most coverage is about nationwide opinion polls or individuals like Frist's positions).

If you are aware of a good article about individual state universities putting some resources or strong advocacy into this - you mentioned MO? - I'd like to read more. (Obviously I realize all universities - with the exception of places like BYU - are pro-research, but I have no awareness of any serious push in the 40 or so states that don't already have a substantial biology program in place.

To reasonably benefit from this funding, you need to have a good stable of well-established scientists in the field... and like anything, you need to have good people to bring in good people. I know every state WANTS to have a strong research arm, and they realize it will spur growth and jobs. (Notably, U.T. Austin has been trying for years to build up their biology research. They have a lot of money for it, too... but they are probably at least 15-20 years away, if ever, from getting to the point where they can recruit competitively.)

I ought to know the numbers on this, but my guess would be that well over 80% of stem cell grants would go to about 4 states. If there is significant backing from places like MO, I'm surprised by it.


I know a lot of Universities have instituted "Life Sciences" programs, on top of the bio program. These are geared more toward genetics and stem cells and have even less of a Chinese wall between corporate and public funding than science elsewhere has. Here in MI, the Life Sciences "corridor" including universities in Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Lansing, as well as a bunch of private entities, was actually an idea championed by former governor and now National Association of Manufacturers head Engler, not the democrat Granholm. She has continued the program though as part of her effort to keep or expand jobs in MI.

I know when U MI was looking to hire a head of Life Sciences center, at a salary in line with the University President's and the President of the hospital, they were in fierce competition with other states doing the same.

And as to why a DE guy would champion this? Well, aside from construction-related fields, the only industries in this country that are expanding are defense and medicine. The Life Sciences is the new frontier for where all those new expensive, patented procedures are going to come from, because Pharma's business model is not exactly thriving. So, coming from the state where all these corporations are incorporated, he might have some real interest in seeing stem cells take off.

Last week's [MO] Senate hearing offered a warts-and-all look at the battles in the Missouri Republican Party, with a series of avowed anti-abortion politicians describing the political risks they face by opposing the anti-cloning measure.

''I understand the political realities could cost me my Senate seat," said Senator John Griesheimer, who is against the proposal but said party loyalty would compel him to vote in favor it if it reaches the floor.

Griesheimer was one of many GOP senators fretting over the lack of unity. ''I know the Democrats are salivating over this whole thing," he said. ''It's sad we are fighting among ourselves."

On somewhat the same lines (faith- and base-based scientific policy), I had earlier wondered if global warming had any potential as a wedge issue. last week the following story appeared in the SF Chronicle, showing that at least in California that might be true:


"A strong majority of Californians, rejecting Bush administration assertions that global warming is not yet a proven phenomenon, believe the effects of climate change have already begun and want state legislators to take action to lessen human activities that scientists say are warming the planet, a new poll shows.

"The survey conducted by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California indicates that 86 percent of state residents believe that global warming will affect current or future generations. Of those respondents, 57 percent say the changes are already under way.

"Only 9 percent of Californians overall, and 20 percent of California Republicans, say that global warming "will never happen," according to the survey."


"Among other study findings:

-- Three in four respondents say that global warming is a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" threat to California's economy and quality of life, potentially causing increased air pollution, droughts, coastal erosion and flooding.

-- 77 percent of respondents favor a state law requiring automakers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new cars beginning in 2009, and 69 percent support a plan to reduce those emissions from cars and industry by more than 80 percent over the next 50 years."

California has been a trendsetter, for better or for worse, for the last 40 years at least. Maybe on htis one too.

And back on the topic, CA's stem cell program has run into real problems because it was done by an initiative pushed by an entrepreneur whose son has juvenile diabetes. There are lots of complaints about how the program is being set up and who will ultimately benefit financially from it. States are well advised to do this by careful legislation.

~wheel, thanks for the reference. The MI Life Sciences Institute has indeed recruited some good people -- at least the names I know, including one person I know moderately well. That's great that they're setting that up. Clearly, more expansion is going on than I knew about.

As to corporate funding of science: it's worth backing up that statement with some evidence when one throws it around, as I think it's become part of conventional wisdom without good reason. (more succinctly: it feels like blogma -- blog dogma.) I understand it's a real problem in medicine, where companies producing drugs fund the clinical trials of those drugs. I think people lump science and medicine together but they're really different animals.

DemFromCT and Mimikatz, you are both well ahead of me as usual... I was wondering if these pushes for stem cell funding is more because it is favored by opinion polls rather than because it will actually bring money or jobs home. Don't get me wrong, I'll take it however I can get it.

Mimikatz, I haven't heard about any controversy re: how CA's program is set up. Naturally, many of these programs are going to be led by people who have family who would conceivably benefit from stem cell research (and with the time lag between research & medicine being what it is, that pretty much rules out elderly parents or spouses with neurodegenerative disease... juvenile diabetes is a great candidate to actually see help emerge within current patients' lifetimes). Doug Melton is a wonderful example of a scientist who switched the entire thrust of his research when his son was diagnosed with diabetes, and he is absolutely one of the top leaders in pancreas & stem cell biology. In the CA case, who is benefiting that shouldn't be (or isn't that should be)?

Thenissue in CA is whether the State, which is putting up spme $3 billion in bond money, will realize a share of the eventual patents and profits, or whether it will go to private companies and the researchers. Another issue is conflicts of interest in a more general sense. Also secrecy and legislative oversight. The whole measure was drafted by its proponents, and has many detailed provisions which the Legislature tried unsuccessfully to modify this past session. There was a post on this at Kevin Drum in the last week, I believe, and an article in the SF Chronicle that may be available on sfgate.com.


I might have some paper-based data to back that up. But that contention comes from having served on the Government Relations committee when Life Sciences was being set up--we saw budgets and funding documents. It was a big Lee Bollinger initiative (he's now president at Columbia, ruining what was once a very bright legacy), and I recall that when he jumped to Columbia there were some questions about the financial arrangements. (Which is appropriate, because when UM's anthro department jumped from here to Columbia, they left a funding scandal in their wake, and the guy in charge of that funding scandal is now provost or something at Columbia.

Emptywheel and DemfromCT:

The reason MO is so big on stem cell research is because we're pitting the biological juggernauts in St. Louis (Washington University, Monsanto and Pfizer) and Kansas City (the Stowers Institute, a private cancer-research institute bankrolled by the Stowers family of American Century Investments fame) against the rest of the red state.

Here at WashU, there are several scientists just salivating at the prospect of working on human stem cells. We already have a state-of-the-art Good Manufacturing Practices facility that could be quickly adapted to work with human ES cells for clinical trials. And WashU would love to get a piece of that action. The problem is, the fundies in the rest of the state, in their idiocy have tried to introduce a bill *criminalizing* stem cell research, even if it is done with private money.

It's an interesting showdown, cause you've got some serious R power brokers like the Danforth family with tight ties to WashU, and Stowers is threatening to pull his institute out of KC, MO if the legislature were to let this abomination pass. Hence, the rifts among the MO R party.

And FYI, for everyone, believe it or not, Washington University's medical school is ranked #3 in the country. Ahead of Duke, Penn, Michigan, Columbia, etc. Not that I put much weight on that at all, mind you :)

So there is some significant life sciences research going on here. And not to mention, Sigma, the supplier of chemicals to almost every biosciences lab in the country is headquartered here too.

Mimikatz I haven't been able to find the sfgate article but some recent ones at San Diego Union-Tribune and tomepaine.com. Part of the CA issue seems to be that voters were (?) mislead into thinking they would be getting profits from whatever patents emerged from the research, which would be very unusual and is not the way it works with any other research grants -- patents always go to the researchers & the institution. (That may not be the best way to do things, but it is the way it is always done & I'm surprised something else was implied during the campaign.) As you mentioned, the institute board is stacked with scientists who want to keep politics as far away from the lab as possible. I think that's wise, of course when you go for state funding of research you are already inviting politics into the lab. I guess it's not likely that the politicians will decide the best thing they can do is just let the researchers do research. As you also mentioned, I see the piece about Robert Klein who led the initiative campaign now running it "like his own private venture capital firm." Not sure what that means -- they say he's hired a lobbyist and is still running a pro-research campaign out of his corporate offices -- not clear to me what's wrong with that, or why someone who is passionate about research shouldn't be allowed to lobby & campaign for it.

emptywheel do you recall there being improper funding relationships in labs that you reviewed? Obviously no specifics necessary but if you remember general outline of them I'd be interested. When people leave an institution there are usually some bitter tastes left in accountants' mouths at both institutions, as the person tries to get all they can from the place they're leaving & the place they're going to. Naturally the place they're leaving is usually the most bitter. But the more serious ethical problems would be for example is diverting grant money to pay for research in their lab whose results would go directly to benefit a company that person runs on the side. Which is not unheard of, actually. Often the lines between the academic lab and the company are naturally hazy... not out of some nefarious purpose but just because the lab got into something where future development of it would not really be basic science but more biotech development, and so they moved that project from the academic setting to a biotech setting. Often the relationships there are very close -- it's not clear to me anyone gets hurt by it in general, though I'm sure to be proved wrong by some cases.

viget - d'oh! How could I forget WashU? I guess when I see "MO" I think Kansas City and midwestern fields, not urban St. Louis! Of course there is very strong research going on there. I didn't know about the Stowers Inst., thanks for telling me.

I definitely was forgetting or ignorant of a lot of rapidly expanding biomed research in the midwest, and I'm happy to learn about it. I still would say though that if stem cell funding were passed, some huge amount of the dollars would be going to just a few states (CA, MA, NY, MD, possibly TX & WA). But I think the important thing I didn't realize is that for all these other states (MI and MO for example) the percent of national research money they receive may be small, but the amount of additional funding they would get as a proportion of what they get now would be large -- that is, a given state may receive only say 1% of national research funds but that 1% may represent an increase of 125% of that state's total bio research grant receipts. I hadn't thought of it like that.

'pockets, I promise you Yale wants it to pass, and so does UConn. Every other state must be in similar circumstances.


Heh, no prob. The best thing about this whole stem cell thing, is that it has put our gov, "babyface" blunt in quite a bind. It was the fundies that elected the guy, and now the whole state is having some serious buyer's remorse, with blunt's approval hovering around 35% or so.

It is really delightful (in a sick,twisted kind of way) to watch the hoops the MO GOP "moneyed" establishment is making Blunt go through. The legislature is all gung-ho about banning nuclear transfer procedures, and Blunt has gone on the record with a different proposal favoring banning "reproductive cloning" (which incidentally, I think is a good idea, as long as it's worded properly). Luckily for Blunt, the issue is DOA this legislative session, but I'm sure next year it'll come back with a vengence. It is amusing, however, to see Blunt's opinions shift with the political money wind, and see him backstab his fundy base. Probably accounts for the low approval he currently enjoys.

And I too sometimes forget St. Louis is in MO. Honestly, I think we should just secede and become the "District of Columbia-- West" MO would lose several EV's if we did that.

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