Special report: Regenerative medicine looks East

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Special report: Regenerative medicine looks East

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | July 08, 2011
From the April 2011 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine


“They really made up the backbone of the research being conducted in stem cells in China,” Dominique S. McMahon, a health policy researcher with the University of Toronto, told DOTmed News.

Recruiting Chinese researchers with international publications under their belts has been part of a government effort to raise the prestige and quality of its scientific research, McMahon said.

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William Hoffman, a stem cell policy wonk who works at the University of Minnesota, said he knew a Chinese researcher, a “huge star” at Princeton, who returned to China to start up a lab.

“Being the magnet here for medical education is great, but the world’s changing,” said Hoffman, whose book The Stem Cell Dilemma, co-authored with Dr. Leo Furcht, has a new edition, which also tackles the “sea turtle” phenomenon, coming out later this year. “These students, they know when they go back home it won’t be quite like here. But they have financial means and the infrastructure to do what they couldn’t have done 15 years ago.”

“All of us who buy Chinese goods at Walmart, we’re setting up the stage here for quite a performance in the next number of decades,” he added.

Funding certainty, less burdensome licenses
One attraction of China is certainly the decent funding and lower labor costs that lead to cheaper labs. But another big lure could be a more relaxed regulatory environment and greater regulatory stability than in the United States, for example, where constantly shifting legislation and court rulings have jeopardized federal funding – which supplies the bulk of cash for basic research.

At press time, in fact, the U.S. industry was waiting to hear an outcome of a case that could deal a massive blow to domestic stem cell research.

To understand the somewhat precarious state of U.S. stem cell funding, a little history is in order. In August 2000, the Clinton Administration allowed federal funding of stem cell research for the first time, but no funding to create new embryonic stem cell lines. But this funding regime was never to be. Just one year later, before any grants actually could be doled out to scientists, a newly installed President Bush, apparently spooked by a reading of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World, authorized funding only for the roughly 60 stem cell lines that had already been derived before 9 pm on August 9, 2001 – the time of his speech announcing the rule. Much grumbling from scientists and liberal editorial writers ensued until March 2009, when President Obama overturned most of the rule with an executive order.

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