The Boston Globe has reported that Harvard University is going to create a stem cell research institute using private funding that will work with human embryonic stem cells.
Set to be announced in April, the stem cell plan will bring together researchers from Harvard and all of the Harvard-affiliated hospitals to unlock the mysteries of a type of cell that has the potential to develop into any healthy tissue in the body, but has triggered ethical controversy over the way it is created. Though not housed in a central building, the initiative will be large, even by Harvard standards, with a fund-raising goal of about $100 million, according to the scientists involved.
Harvard issued a statement Sunday confirming its plans, saying the school is "proceeding in the direction of establishing a stem cell institute." Final details are not complete, it said.
Provost Steven E. Hyman confirmed plans were in progress for the Harvard Stem Cell Center, which would bring together researchers from the University and affiliated hospitals who are already exploring the promising cells’ potential to help cure diseases like AIDS and diabetes. “We are moving forward on a stem cell center,” Hyman said. “It’s something Harvard ought to be doing. It is something we can be preeminent in.”
The revelation, first reported yesterday in The Boston Globe, comes two weeks after a South Korean laboratory became the first to extract a line of stem cells from a cloned human embryo, disappointing Harvard researchers who had been pursuing the achievement.
A report circulated by Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) William C. Kirby in January included a proposal to establish a stem cell research program on the University’s lands in Allston.
“Not only does the Institute propose to bridge the gap from basic to applied life science, it also proposes to address the complex social, ethical and religious questions that have arisen as stem cell research has advanced,” read the report obtained by The Crimson.
Human embryonic stem cells, which can harness the potency of fertilized eggs to form any variety of human tissue, have emerged as a pivotal—and controversial—field of study.
Bush administration restrictions limit government-financed research to pre-existing stem cells, but Hyman said the University would seek funding for the center from private donors and foundations.
One way or another human embryonic stem cell research is going to be done. It will be done by private money in the United States. It will be done in some other countries, particularly in East Asia where there is enough scientific talent and money and little in the way of government restrictions.
I think some proponents of human embryonic stem cell research have promoted unrealistic expectations about how quickly human embryonic stem cell research would produce useful treatments if only there were fewer political obstacles to this area of research.. Much of the work that needs to be done to understand how to manipulate stem cells can be and is being done in various animal models. This is similar to how many other kinds of research are done in other species for reasons of cost, ethics, ease of the work, and other factors. Plus, a lot of work on stem cells can be done on non-embryonic stem cells.
I'm not saying all this to make an argument against human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research. Decide for yourself whether you think that kind of research is ethically acceptable. My point is that in order to fight for the legality of this research the proponents have overstated how urgent the need is for doing human embryonic stem cell research at this point in time and at least one prominent stem cell researcher has put forth a similar view on this controversy.
Update: On a related note a group at Harvard led by researcher Douglas Melton has used private funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to develop 17 new human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines.
March 3, 2004— Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers at Harvard University announced today that they have derived 17 new human embryonic stem-cell lines. The new cell lines will be made available to researchers, although at this time United States policies prohibit the use of federal funds to investigate these cells.
The cell lines were derived using private funds by researchers in the laboratory of Douglas A. Melton, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator at Harvard University. The researchers described the stem-cell lines in an article published online on March 3, 2004, in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). The article will also be in the March 25, 2004, print edition of NEJM.
HHMI funds a lot of excellent quality biomedical research and has an endowment which is currently about $11 billion dollars and which currently provides $450 million per year in biomedical research funding to hundreds of investigators. So HHMI has pockets deep enough to make hESC research happen in the United States without federal government money.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2004 March 03 02:13 AM Biotech Organ Replacement|