Stem Cell Research

In 2009, President Obama overturned a policy enacted by the Bush administration that put limits on stem cell research. With the lift of several restrictions and a change in political climate, scientists felt that a breakthrough in treatments using stem cells was inevitable. Fast-forward three years. Here we are in 2012; any monumental achievement? No. Unfortunately, a dearth of economic investments in this field of science are to blame for the lack of discoveries made with stem cell research in the United States.

Patients with issues ranging from cancer to Alzheimer’s looked with hope toward the prospect of new successes with stem cell treatments, but there are no results to show for. Many Americans with spinal cord injuries looked towards the stem cell research field with hope when the U.S. company, Geron Corp., started testing treatments using human embryonic cells. These efforts began with the easing of restrictions set forth by the Obama administration; however, developments have been set to a halt. In November of 2011, Geron announced that the program would be canceled due to lack of profit returns. Their work wasn’t put to an end because of government restraints put against them or lack of support; they stopped because this research was treated like a business deal.

Geron was not able to continue making strides toward curing spinal cord injuries with human embryonic stem cells because the impatient greed of investors overpowered the need patients had for developments. Since the full potential of stem cell research has not been reached, the time it takes to create safe and effective treatments with human embryonic stem cell experimentation affects both patients and investors. These experiments are performed over years in order for them to be perfected and exposed to the practicing medical world. The problem with these slow gradual developments is that investors grow impatient, wanting to see instant profit.

When the Geron Corp shut its doors on their embryotic stem cell research, patients were directly hurt as a result of the lack of investors willing to put in their money and wait for results. While people suffering from spinal injuries waited for Geron to invent treatments with stem cells, investors grew tired of not getting instant returns, thus limiting the amount of resources given to the program and limiting the options for the suffering patients. According to the New York Post, without the influx of money into their program Geron was forced to eliminate 38 percent of their employees in addition to terminating their program.

This is just one company within the United States, a snapshot of one of the biggest issues stem cell research faces. The fact that money is the deciding factor in whether or not people get a chance at being cured is tragic. Patients everywhere with life-threatening diseases look toward stem cell findings with hope that researchers may discover the answer to their medical issues. If research facilities continually lack the funding they need to create treatments using stem cells, the world may not know the potential that stem cells hold, at least not anytime soon.  The discouraging part of all this is that money shouldn’t be what stops scientists from discovering the capabilities of stem cells. The government has lifted restrictions, the public backlash against embryotic cells has died down and the demand for new developments has not changed; the only thing standing in the way is time and money.

Although the Obama administration has played a role in paving the way for new stem cell developments, the funding the government has given to these programs has been minimal. Yes, we are in an economic crisis, but it is hard to believe that our nation has continued to spend millions of dollars overseas, while worthy causes including stem cell programs are wounded due to the limited amount of funds. If we are in fact the greatest country in the world, why aren’t we leading the way in major scientific findings that could possibly change the face of medical treatments as we know it? Where is the harm in giving money to researchers trying to save lives?

Stem cell research isn’t a political game, and it certainly isn’t a business venture, it is a legitimate effort to help people all around the world. If the government were to reprioritize their spending towards things that might actually help their citizens and if investors that have the money to assist scientists saw past their greed and impatience, then the potential of stem cell research may finally be reached.

Sarah Menendez is a first-year political science and literary journalism double major. She can be reached at smenende@uci.edu.