A final word in the stem cell debate.
Dr. Mahendra Rao, the head of the stem cell group at the National Institute of Aging's Laboratory of Neurosciences is stepping down. But this is not the end of Doctor Rao's contribution to stem cell research so much as it is a new beginning. He is leaving the government funded NIH, for a job with the biotech company Invitrogen. And thus he leaves behind the constraints and regulations of the President's controversial executive order on stem cells. No longer will DR. Rao be limited to the minuscule outdated pre-2001 embryonic stem cell lines for his research. Dr. Rao lists that as his primary reason for leaving the NIH behind for the private sector.
Like many scientists, Dr. Rao speaks to the potential of embyrionic stem cells. "embryonic stem cells are the only cells that don't die spontaneously. That means they don't senesce -- they don't age in culture. You can keep them going pretty much forever. That told us that there are cells within the human body that don't age or that carry the secret of immortality".
If our government continues to place hurdles in the way of our researchers, because of differences in philosophy or superstition, then private companies will be there to pick up the ball. But it's not just finding a home for promising scientists in a field that is unpopular with the current administration that is the problem. There is also the matter of supporting those that would choose to enter the field of embryonic stem cell research.
Dr. Rao states, "Labs that explore technologies we would like to use in the stem cell field, just like you would in the cancer field, for example, have shied away because it's just not worth their while, every thing's much more difficult. Not just policy, but it's also the patent situation. The other big problem is that when you're making career choices you want stability, knowing the field will be around and it will be supported and it's not clear how much support there is from the government."
It's unfortunate, that something this important to Humanity as a species, is falling prey to a short sighted administration and knife sharpening patent lawyers. What we have before us is potentially the master key to unlock the secrets of aging, regenerative medicine, disease cures, and even early human development.
But even if such a discovery is made right now, due to FDA regulations, people could wait as long as a decade to reap the benefits. Dr. Rao seems very concerned at the potential backlash of an impatient public. But I'm not a believer in the public sitting around gnashing their teeth dying of disease while the FDA undertakes a ten year double blind safety study. They are much more likely to simply head off to Thailand.
Someday perhaps, Gilgamesh will return to the city with the plant that makes old men young. And if so, it will because of people like Dr. Rao and companies like Invitrogen.
This post signals one more ending and new beginning. This will be the final entry in the old and dust covered METAHumans blog. However, I am the founding contributor to Memepunks, a new blog about "The latest news in cutting edge science, Internet weirdness, paradigm shifts, and disruptive business models". And of course I'll be Op-Eding and entertaining on my own site. Thank you for reading, and I hope you'll stick around and enjoy the ride.
"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." - Lucius Annaeus Seneca