May 27, 2005
By Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
In real life, money follows results. When an
inventor creates a useful product, investors find him, market the
product and sell it. There's no need for the federal government to
In fact, federal involvement usually means an approach has failed.
Farmers demand subsidies, for example, when they can no longer
profitably sell their crops. And some manufacturers, faced with
less expensive products from overseas, demand protective
This principle helps illuminate the ongoing debate over federal
funding for embryonic stem cells to treat and cure disease.
Researchers would harvest these cells from human embryos for
medical treatment, destroying the embryos in the process. Despite
serious ethical misgivings, some in Congress want taxpayers to
spend money on it. But, at a recent panel at The Heritage
Foundation, Dr. Kelly Hollowell, a molecular and cellular
pharmacologist, noted that despite widespread media hype over
embryonic stem-cell research, it hasn't been attracting significant
Rep. David Weldon, a Republican from Florida and a medical doctor,
was on the same Heritage panel. He pointed out that science is
rapidly moving away from an emphasis on embryonic stem cells and
toward the study of adult stem cells. "In a few years, the
embryonic people are probably going to give up," Weldon said,
"because they're just not getting good research results." On the
other hand, "the adult stem cell work and, in particular, the cord
blood work is just phenomenal."
So there are two major research alternatives. The first is stem
cells from umbilical cord blood, which are available every time a
woman gives birth. The second is adult stem cells, which are
typically drawn from the bone marrow of patients. The National
Institutes of Health notes on its Web site: "Adult stem cells such
as blood-forming stem cells in bone marrow (called hematopoietic
stem cells, or HSCs) are currently the only type of stem cell
commonly used to treat human diseases." They've been used for
decades to treat patients with leukemia, lymphoma and several
inherited blood disorders.
Embryonic stem cells, on the other hand, have yet to be
successfully used to treat anything, which is why supporters want
federal funding for their research effort.
Rep. Weldon said that some researchers have a selfish motive for
focusing on embryonic stem cells. "If you developed a highly
successful intervention for treating sickle cell anemia with cord
blood, that is not really a patentable intervention under our
current laws," Weldon explained. But, he noted, if someone could
develop the same treatment with embryonic stem cells, that person
would be a millionaire.
Still, it doesn't make a lot of sense to force taxpayers to pour
money into a project that private investors have largely avoided,
especially when that project isn't generating any results. It would
make more sense to concentrate on stem-cell work that has proven
productive and holds real promise for treating and curing
If individuals, companies, universities or even state governments
want to fund such research, there is nothing stopping them.
California plans to spend some $3 billion on stem-cell research,
including embryonic stem-cell research. In the spirit of
federalism, other states may follow suit, if that's what their
But let taxpayers beware. As Rep. Weldon warns, "Taxpayers, in
time, will regret that decision when they see absolutely no good
cures coming out of it."
So far the debate has focused on what embryonic stem cells someday
might yield. "Although [these cells] are thought to offer potential
cures and therapies for many devastating diseases, research using
them is still in its early stages," according to the NIH. Yet
optimism runs high, as we saw recently when the House of
Representatives, despite a presidential veto threat, voted 238-194
in favor of federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research.
Everyone wants to cure diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's
and diabetes. But if embryonic stem cells seemed to be the singular
remedy, the private research industry, including pharmaceutical
companies, would be pouring money into the research. A $1 billion
investment could pay 10 times that much to any company that
developed a cure.
The fact that embryonic stem cell research is being left to the
federal government speaks volumes.
Feulner is president of the Heritage
In real life, money follows results. When an inventor creates a useful product, investors find him, market the product and sell it. There's no need for the federal government to get involved.
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
Read More >>
Request an interview >>
Please complete the following form to request an interview with a Heritage expert.
Please note that all fields must be completed.
Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.
The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.
The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.
More than 200,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.
Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."
Sign up to start your free subscription today!
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute, with hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in February 1973, has a staff of 275 and an annual expense budget of $82.4 million.
Our mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Read More
© 2013, The Heritage Foundation Conservative policy research since 1973