Djcnor’s Weblog

The “Kosher” Laboratory – Stem Cell Research under Bush

Posted on: March 10, 2009

I am very glad that Obama overturned Bush’s restrictions on stem cell research. I understand the scruples that some people have regarding it, and probably my having been a research biochemist for a number of years biases my moral judgements on the subject somewhat, but it’s the practical matters of trying to operate under the Bush restrictions that absolutely horrify me.

Biochemists and other medical research scientists are tool collectors. When I say “tools”, I mean basics like cell line incubators, and hot water baths, and refridgerators, and stirrers, and pipetmen, and tube racks, computers, and so on, and so on. I also mean assay kits, separation kits, chemicals for preparing different solutions, and all kinds of other supplies.

I have not been a lab scientist since before Bush came to power, so I was not aware that his restrictions on stem cell research also applied to all this lab equipment and supplies bought with the money from any government grant.

A scientist might, with funding other than government funding, work with stem cell lines outside the Bush restrictions. But he could not use any of the tools bought with government money in that research.

I try to imagine setting up a lab with two of everything needed, having to wastefully buy and use two separate sets of tools, when the same experiements could easily have been done in the same lab sharing tools.

I imagine a simple thing like trying to manage the on-going ordering for the lab. Having to put in two separate orders for disposable test tubes (double the time spent on ordering), not being able to take advantage of a lesser price for higher quantities because I could not combine orders. Having to have two separate storage units for each type of supply. A chemical shelf like Noah’s ark, one bottle of NaCl for pre-2001 cell line work, another for post 2001 cell lines, and so on for NaOH, sucrose, etc. etc. etc.  

I imagine running out of something, or rather not running out of something because there’s a perfectly good bunch of whatever you need in your lab but bought with the other source of money and off limits.

Oh well, you go to the lab next door. But wait! Before you borrow anything from the lab next door you would have to ask about the source of the money with which it was bought.

Within a department, even within an institution, expensive equipment is shared. I can only imagine the fierce arguments among the faculty about whether the equipment is allocated to pre-2001 cell lines or post 2001 cell lines.

If I let my mind actually follow this line of thought through all the possible repercussions, I’m very glad I left science before the restrictions came in. Frankly, I’d bet a rather large amount that any number of scientists just threw up their hands and said “I know stem cell research is the best way of getting the information I want to acquire next, but considering the complications, I’ll stick with a lesser tool.” Others probably said “$%^&# it! I’ll go work in another country.” I wonder how many otherwise unnecessary trips were made just because the research at hand had to be done in a lab set up for one source of funding rather than another.

What a damned stupid arrangement this was, and what a sensible thing it is to wipe all the mess out.


2 Responses to "The “Kosher” Laboratory – Stem Cell Research under Bush"

For research, who supplies the stem cells. Are the women paid?
If research is successful, can you estimate the amount of stems cells required, and will women be paid? Will then be an international market for stem cells?

I am very concerned about this aspect of the research and the implications..

Hello, and thanks for your comment.
Regarding your first question, there could be several answers. Obviously, one answer is an unborn or newly born person. Another is the parents of that person. Another is the lab in which the embryos not being used by that set of parents were created. Another is whatever lab may have managed to produce a sustainable line from the original stem cell line. I’m not entirely certain, but I’m fairly sure that only the last may be paid. Again, I must say I have not been a lab scientist for some time.

Most human cell lines, particularly lines of normal cells of any kind, are limited in the number of times they can divide producing new cells. One of the things that distinguishes cancer is that normal cells lose that limitation.

There is no way to predict the amount of stem cells needed to achieve success, and any payment may go to the lab establishing the line, which is no easy thing to achieve. Cell lines are often shared at no cost with other labs. There is a market for established cell lines that have particular properties, but I don’t believe there is a lot of money to be made from that.

Again, I have not worked with stem cell lines. The special property of stem cells is their potential to become any particular type of cell, of which there are about 200. The conditions required to send a stem cell down a particular path are still quite a biomedical mystery, a wide body of information scientists are working to find out. Any payment is essentially for all the information regarding the properties of the cell line bought.

For example, I used to work with established cancerous neuronal cell lines that were known to have a certain type of opiate receptors on their surfaces. Cancer cells because that gave them the property of being sustainable, growable in quantities. Neuronal because of the system I wanted to study. The cell lines has originated by a doctor somewhere asking a person with brain cancer to permit him to keep a sample of a tumor removed for the purpose of attempting to establish a cell line that might eventually provide information helpful for the treatment of others having similar cancers or other medical problems. These particular cell lines were considered a decent model for studying particular opiate receptors and how they worked in neurons. (Receptors sometimes work differently in different types of cells.) I got that cell line through a government “cell bank”, a place where established cell lines were maintained and made available to researchers.

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