Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Under- and Over-performing Countries in hESC Research

Policy environments may shape international progress of human embryonic stem cell research Wednesday, 04 June 2008 Biomedical research may be substantially hampered by drawn out debates, conflicting legislation and restrictive policies. A new analysis, published by Cell Press in the June issue of Cell Stem Cell, investigates the influence of policy environments on the progression of research related to human embryonic stem cells (hESC) and offers new insight into the international development of this often ethically controversial field. “There is no doubt that hESC science is governed by a complicated patchwork of policies that vary both between and within countries,” says study author Dr. Aaron D. Levine from the School of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology. To assess how this environment may have influenced the development of the field, Dr. Levine analyzed the relative performance of countries with respect to publication of peer-reviewed hESC-related research articles. Each paper in the evaluation was assigned a county of origin according to the address of the corresponding author of the study. The analysis sought to identify significant “over-performers” and “under-performers” by systematically comparing each country’s cumulative share of hESC-related research with its share of RNA interference (RNAi)-related research and its average cumulative share of research related to a broad range of biomedical research topics over the same time period. RNAi research was chosen as a comparison because the seminal “reference” paper was published around the same time as the first hESC paper. In addition, RNAi represents another clinically relevant, but far less controversial, research tool. Using this approach, Dr. Levine identified six countries that showed significant performance differences specific to the field of hESC research. The results revealed a relatively clear relationship between policy environment and over-performance. The top four over-performing countries (UK, China, Israel and Singapore) in hESC-related research have a history of permissive public policies that actively support derivation of new hESC lines from embryos leftover from fertility treatment and through the use of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). These countries complement their permissive policies toward the derivation of new hESC lines with government support for hESC research. The relationship between under-performance and the policy environment is less clear, although the countries under-performing (USA and Japan) in hESC-related research lack the permissive policies seen in over-performing countries and offer policy environments characterized by ongoing debates and uncertainty. “The United States, though still the largest single producer of hESC-related research publications, is the largest under-performer by the metric used here,” says Dr. Levine. This significant under-performance suggests that federal funding restrictions and confusing state laws may have had a negative impact on the amount of hESC research conducted in the United States. “By systematically comparing country performance in hESC-related research with performance in another emerging, but less contentious, field and biomedical research more broadly, this analysis offers new insight into the international development of hESC science,” says Dr. Levine. Reference: Identifying Under- and Over-performing Countries in Research Related to Human Embryonic Stem Cells Aaron D. Levine Cell Stem Cell, Vol 2, 521-524, 05 June 2008 ......... ZenMaster


For more on stem cells and cloning, go to CellNEWS at http://cellnews-blog.blogspot.com/ and http://www.geocities.com/giantfideli/index.html

Public Funding Impacts Progress of hESC Research Wednesday, 04 June 2008 Bolstered by supportive policies and public research dollars, the United Kingdom, Israel, China, Singapore and Australia are producing unusually large shares of human embryonic stem cell research, according to a report from the Georgia Institute of Technology in the June 2008 issue Cell Stem Cell. Aaron Levine, assistant professor of public policy, studied how countries output of research papers related to human embryonic stem cell research compared to their output in less contentious fields. He found that even though the United States still puts out far more research in this field than any other single country, when one compares the amount of research in human embryonic stem cells to other forms of research in molecular biology and genetics, the U.S. lags behind. "The U.S. is still the largest producer of research in this field, but compared to other similar fields, our share is smaller," said Levine, assistant professor in Georgia Tech's Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. "You have to ask yourself, are we happy producing this relatively small share?" In comparison, the study showed that the U.K. and Israel were producing substantially more research in this area than in other fields. According to the study, the U.K. produced 5.3 percent more research related to human embryonic stem cells than research performed in other areas of molecular biology and genetics, while Israel produced 4.6 percent more research. Levine attributed that to the long-held public and political support of human embryonic stem cell research in those countries. "Both the U.K. and Israel have long-standing policies that support research in this field," said Levine. "And this support seems likely to have bolstered scientists' efforts to set up labs and acquire funding for their research." But the biggest surprise was China and Singapore, with China producing 3.2 percent more human embryonic stem cell research than other areas of molecular biology and genetics, and Singapore producing 2.6 percent more research. "China and Singapore both showed impressive performance in human embryonic stem cell research," said Levine. "Although these countries are very different, both have been striving to grow their biomedical research communities and it seems likely they focused on human embryonic stem cell research, in part, because they saw that traditional scientific powerhouses like the United States were moving so tentatively in this area." Australia had a more mixed policy and a more mixed result. While Australia does allow new stem cell lines to be created from fertility treatments, it explicitly banned the use of stem cells derived from somatic cell nuclear transfer from 2002 to 2006. Beginning in 2006 scientists was allowed to use stem cells from somatic cell nuclear transfer, but under strict regulatory guidelines. That may explain why Levine's study found that Australia showed a more modest result of producing only 1.6 percent more human embryonic stem cell research than other areas of molecular biology and genetics. The United States, however, is significantly under-performing in this area. Although Levine's study found that the U.S. produced 36 percent of the research performed on human embryonic stem cells, far more than any other country, when he compared those studies to other areas of research in molecular biology and genetics, he found that the U.S. had a deficit of 10 percent. Although the U.S. government is the funding source for 63 percent of academic research and development, federal funds can only be used for studies on a small number of stem cell lines produced before August 9, 2001. As a result, much research in this area in the U.S. is done either with state money or private money. Given that scientists have less incentive in the private sector to publish research papers, it's possible that Levine's metric undercounts the amount of research done in this area in the U.S. But even so, the contribution from the U.S. is still reduced since research that isn't published does little to increase public knowledge. But that may change. Venturing where the federal government fears to tread, states like California, New York, Connecticut and Maryland are becoming places researchers can turn to for human embryonic stem cell funding. But Levine thinks that development may complicate matters. "There are a variety of funding sources out there now, but it makes the field more complicated for scientists to follow the various rules set forth by the states and foundations," said Levine. "I think scientists would prefer clear oversight from a federal government that's supportive of their research." Levine plans to follow up this current work with a look at how collaboration is affected by these different state policies. Reference: Identifying Under- and Over-performing Countries in Research Related to Human Embryonic Stem Cells Aaron D. Levine Cell Stem Cell, Vol 2, 521-524, 05 June 2008 ......... ZenMaster


For more on stem cells and cloning, go to CellNEWS at http://cellnews-blog.blogspot.com/ and http://www.geocities.com/giantfideli/index.html

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