U.S. Stem Cell Ruling May Boost Asian Research

Asian countries are well-positioned to benefit from the latest setback for stem cell research in the U.S. During the Bush years, countries such as Singapore and China took advantage of the U.S. ban on embryonic stem-cell research by providing a more welcoming environment for scientists to work. See, for example, this story I did back in 2005 about Asian efforts to capitalize on the U.S. ban. Describing what he called the "astonishing" progress made in Asia, Robert A. Goldstein, chief scientific officer at New York-based Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, told me then that many Asian governments were asking themselves: “Since the U.S. doesn’t seem to be taking a lead role, why don’t we?”

With Obama’s election and his easing of restrictions, that question became moot as the U.S. got back in the game. Now, though, the Aug. 23 ruling by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth halting U.S. funding for embryonic stem-cell research is a reminder of the uncertainty surrounding the issue in the States. Even if Judge Lambert’s ruling is overturned on appeal, what happens if Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, or some other conservative Republican defeats Obama in 2012? Count on a new executive order banning research before the Inauguration Day balls are even over. There’s almost zero chance of any such change in policy in Singapore, China, or other Asian countries aspiring to be centers of stem cell research.

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