The New York Stem Cell Foundation does not advertise the location of its Manhattan laboratory. Journalists who visited the lab one recent day did so after agreeing not to publish its address. First opened in March 2006, the lab is home to basic science research into devastating and costly diseases, including diabetes and Parkinsons, using human embryonic stem cells.
The tour closed a five-day New York Times Foundation seminar at New York University for reporters on the science, ethics and politics surrounding the cells, which emerge in the earliest days of development with the striking capacity to morph into nearly any cell in the body. That ability holds tremendous promise for medicine. But the cells origin has generated strong opposition from those with moral and ethical objections to their use in research. For reporters who milled about the lab, Asa Abeliovich served as the highly overqualified tour guide. A physician and professor of pathology and neurology at Columbia University , Abeliovichs research into the underpinnings of Parkinsons includes using embryonic stem-cells to study dopamine neuron development.
Susan Solomon, the foundations chief executive officer , met with the assembled reporters and readily defended the decision to keep the labs whereabouts secret. Protests at the lab could drain money from research for extra security, she said. Solomon co-founded the foundation in 2005 to get around the significant political obstacles to expanding embryonic stem-cell research in the public sector.
The New York Stem Cell Foundations lab is privately funded and one of a growing number of effortspublic and privateto bypass federal constraints on embryonic stem-cell research. In August 2001, President Bush restricted federal research funds to all but a limited supply of embryonic stem-cells. Scientists must use stem cells that were first isolated and cultured before Bushs announcement, among other criteria, to be eligible for federal funds. In addition to private efforts, at least six states have earmarked funds for embryonic stem-cell projects, including Californias $3 billion initiative, the National Conference of State Legislatures reported in January.
For several speakers who addressed the reporters, nowhere is the tension between embryonic stem-cell ethics and scientific promise more problematic than U.S. policy that limits federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research.
Anthony Mazzaschi, the senior associate vice president for the Association of American Medical Colleges division of biomedical and health sciences research, noted that National Institutes of Health spending for embryonic stem-cell research amounted to $38 million out of a roughly $28.5 billion budget in fiscal 2006. Last years funding for adult and embryonic stem-cell funds combined totaled $643 million, or 2% of NIH spending.
Solomon, who also talked with reporters on day two of the stem-cell seminar, argued the lack of federal funding not only hampers research, but it also dissuades scientists from entering embryonic stem-cell research. To underscore the point, she offered an example sure to get her audiences attention: The implication is youre better off trying to be an actor, or a reporter at a newspaper, she said.