Stem cell politics

Australian scientists claim a world first by growing a human prostrate gland in mice using embryonic stem cells, shown here on a computer screen February 24, 2006.

KAI RYSSDAL: President Bush just got back from the G-8 summit in Russia this afternoon. But the White House press office was up and running in his absence. They released a statement this morning promising the President's first veto. It's a threat he's made before. But this time it looks like he might really mean it. The Senate began debating a bill on stem cell research today. It would remove White House restrictions on federal funding. Marketplace's Hillary Wicai has more.


HILLARY WICAI: Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas and others opposed to expanding embryonic stem cell research, say it's nothing less than experimenting with a human life.
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: What we're doing here is treating man as raw material.

Brownback and the administration want to limit this kind of research. But Richard Hayes at the Center for Genetics and Society says, ironically, the government may be giving up a regulatory opportunity. About 39 million federal dollars has been budgeted for next year's embryonic stem cell research.

But billions more is slated to come from states like California and private industry. Hayes says in a world where funders drive the stagecoach, the government may be passing the reins.

RICHARD HAYES: With federal funding and federal oversight we have both the amount of resources and the structure for governing this research that ensures it will go in a proper direction. Without that it's sort of a Wild West of research, and who knows what kinds of purposes it's being directed towards.

Another concern: If the private sector and states continue to go their own way, a potential breakthrough won't enter the public domain anytime soon. Evan Snyder is at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in California.

EVAN SNYDER: Private sector companies don't need to disclose it. They'll try to develop it and make it available only when they think that they can recoup their investment — in other words, make a profit.

The Senate is expected to vote tomorrow.

In Washington, I'm Hillary Wicai for Marketplace.

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