So, if the most promising stem-cell therapies use cells that can be harvested without doing harm to a human embryo, why are some scientific experts strongly promoting federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research? And why, in the words of bioethicist Wesley Smith, does the mainstream media give stories about embryonic stem-cell research "the brass band treatment" while reports about adult stem cells are "generally about as intense and excited as a stifled yawn"?
According to a National Journal article titled "Mixing Business with Stem Cells" by Neil Munro, there is a simple answer: money. Munro writes "... the media coverage has often missed the pecuniary interests of the scientists who have been prominent in supporting government funding for research into the use of stem cells from human embryos." In other words, the press has largely ignored instances in which those promoting embryonic stem-cell research -- including prominent scientists and faculty members at prestigious universities and public research institutions -- have personal stakes in private biotech companies that would benefit directly or indirectly from federal funding.
The lack of biotech investors in embryonic stem-cell enterprises also suggests that useful therapies may be far into the future. "Private investors avoid them because they don't want to wait perhaps 10 years for commercial products that very well may not materialize and because they're spooked by the ethical concerns," writes Michael Fumento in Insight magazine. "That leaves essentially only Uncle Sam's piggy bank, primarily grants from the National Institutes of Health, to keep these labs open."
Stevens says there are at least two other reasons why "a key core group of scientists" is promoting embryonic stem-cell research. One is that the process of using adult stem cells is medically simple and cannot be patented. So, there is no significant money to be made with the research.
"What most people don't understand is that medical school and institutional research has changed tremendously in the past 20 years," Stevens said. "We used to think of researchers working purely to help people, but that's not the way medical schools attract their top scientists. Now they tell the scientists up front that they will not get large salaries that the biotech companies offer. But, if the scientist finds something that is marketable, then the medical school or institutional research firm will spin off a for-profit company and the scientist will get half the profits."
A second disturbing reason, according to Stevens, why some scientists are promoting the use of embryonic stem cells in research for regenerative therapies, is that it would open the door for experimentation on human beings in other areas. "They could study the effects of new drugs on humans, for example, without having to go through clinical trials or a review committee," he says. "They would have the ability to sacrifice human beings for any research purpose."