Bioethicist Christopher Scott, who directs Stanford's Program on Stem Cells in Society has an interesting study (subscription required) in tomorrow's issue of Cell regarding the interplay of human embryonic stem cell research and its less-controversial cousin, induced pluripotent stem cell research. (Embryonic stem cells are made from human embryos, whereas iPS cells are made from adult human tissue such as skin.) Scott and his colleagues at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Michigan concluded that any legislation that slows or stops human embryonic stem cell research would also harm research on induced pluripotent stem cells. The authors write:
We now have clear evidence showing the real possibility of collateral damage caused by ill-conceived and politically motivated policy prescriptions. Restrictions, regulatory uncertainty and spurious court decisions have undoubtedly retarded progress in the pluripotent stem cell field. Now, an entirely new technology, forged out of the crucible of political controversy, stands at risk.
The study is particularly pertinent in the face of the ongoing district court case regarding the legality of using federal funds to conduct human embryonic stem cell research under consideration by judge Royce Lamberth.
Scott and his colleagues back their assertions with an analysis of the patterns of publication on each of the two types of stem cells. They found that, rather than being widely adopted by many new scientists, most iPS cell studies are conducted by established human embryonic stem cell researchers. They also include a fascinating glimpse of networks of co-authorship in each of the two fields. Check it out. It's a veritable Who's Who of the stem cell research field, and it's a great, pictorial way to illustrate how tightly the two types of research are intertwined.
Scott referred to a "false dichotomy" between the cell types in our release, and stated:
If federal funding stops for human embryonic stem cell research, it would have a serious negative impact on iPS cell research. We may never be able to choose between iPS and ES cell research because we don’t know which type of cell will be best for eventual therapies.