President Bush’s Stem Cell Research Policy Prompts NIH Official to Leave

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 11, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

President Bush’s Stem Cell Research Policy Prompts NIH Official to Leave Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 11, 2006

Washington, DC ( — President Bush instituted his policy prohibiting taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research nearly five years ago, but the head of the National Institute on Aging says he’s quitting because of it. Dr. Mahendra Rao plans to return to the private sector after heading up the agency.

Rao says the president’s decision to not spend tax dollars on any new embryonic stem cell research, because it involves the destruction of human life, is behind his decision to leave.

He will leave the agency, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, to join Invitrogen, a California-based biotech company.

Rao told Wired News he opposed Bush’s position because the number of embryonic stem cell research lines eligible for funding under it is small.

"I felt we needed to be working on a larger number of lines — at least on lines that carried certain characteristics that were derived subsequent to that deadline," he said.

Rao blamed the president for decreasing students’ interests in scientific fields.

"In the United States, more than 70 percent of all funding for research comes from the NIH and the NSF and other government funding agencies. So when students look at this, they say five years from now after I get a degree, I’m not going to have a career in this field," Rao told Wired News.

Still, Rao cautioned advocates of embryonic stem cell research not to hype it.

"I think it’s not just the public that’s to blame — it’s the scientists as well," he said about those who have been over-hyping embryonic stem cell research as a panacea for cures.

He said that even if embryonic stem cell research finally found a cure or treatment for any diseases, it could be 10 years or more before a drug is available to patients based on the cures.

Adult stem cells have already produced dozens of cures and treatments while embryonic stem cells have yet to treat a single patient.

At NIA, Rao worked on trying to isolate stem cell lines that don’t age and he says embryonic stem cells have the potential to lengthen life because, properly kept, they won’t die.

Rao said he chose to go to Invitrogen because of its international focus and because he thinks the government restrictions on stem cell research are too restrictive.