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The Future of Stem Cells

Disease Research Hindered by Reproductive Cloning Threat, Experts Say

The Politics of Stem Cells

Federal laws regarding stem cells appear to be in a stalemate. But several states are seizing the initiative.

"Stem cell people are being successful," Caplan says. "They have swung opinion in California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts in favor of stem cell research. In those places, talk about cloning research has gone into the back seat."

Indeed, California is about to vote on Proposition 71, which would generate $3 billion for stem cell research.

Why? Money, say Caplan and Charo. With an eye to the future, states see the opportunity to attract biotechnology companies.

"States are beginning to recognize there is a tremendous economic opportunity in terms of an edge in the biotech sector," Charo says. "So I think people who are middling on abortion issues are being moved to support stem cell research on cells from embryos that are going to be discarded any way. They don't want to be left behind."

Politics being what they are, there won't be any movement on stem cell legislation until after the November 2004 elections. But that doesn't mean nothing is happening.

Charo notes that the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine are developing strict guidelines for stem cell research. The prestige of these institutions is such that their recommendations are very likely to influence the review boards that oversee medical research.

"These guidelines will go beyond the issue of [where stem cells come from] and go into what experiments you should do and not do," Charo says. "This gives the review boards the opportunity to say, can you do this with animals? If it has to be done with human embryos, can it be done with discarded embryos? You can make sure people do not leap to the most controversial method of using stem cells without exploring other issues. This does offer the public reassurance that scientists aren't doing something because it is fashionable, that science is not being done frivolously, but because there is no other way to do it."

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