Hit & Run

Bush Stem Cell Veto's Effect On Research


President Bush is expected to exercise his first ever veto on legislation that would expand federal funding to research on new stem cell lines derived from embryos leftover from fertility clinics. In 2001, President Bush declared that he thought it immoral to spend taxpayer money on deriving new stem cell lines from embryos that would necessarily be destroyed in the process.

So have the president's restrictions harmed U.S. stem cell research? The restrictions probably have slowed research a bit because researchers have had to build completely new infrastructure using private donations and state funds in order to avoid mixing federal funds from their other research. In other words, stem cell researchers who want to work on new stem cell lines have to find money to pay for new standalone labs, new microscropes, new petri dishes, and so forth.

On the other hand, President Bush's limits on research have provoked an outpouring of private and state funding that I have argued previously may well exceed whatever federal funding might have otherwise been available.

That point is alluded to in an article today in the New York Times:

"It would make a major impact, but there wouldn't likely be a windfall of funding in this area," said Dr. Arnold Kriegstein, director of the Institute for Regeneration Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Some researchers hope the legislation would lead eventually to more financing, though the federal research budget has been tight. . . .

Still, it is difficult to quantify how much the president's policy has actually retarded research. Private donations worth tens of millions of dollars have filled the gap to some extent, though scientists say the federal government would be a larger and steadier source of money. A few states are also putting money into the field, the biggest by far being California, which is slated to spend $3 billion over 10 years, though the money is now held up by litigation.

Whatever one's opinion of federal research funding, given that a substantial majority of Americans favor embryonic stem cell research, it's a good bet that fed funds will start flowing into the field shortly after January 20, 2009.