The therapies being researched stand to decrease human suffering by unheard-of levels. They are replete with cures for multiple types of cancer, liver disease, sickle-cell anemia, and more. However, less than a handful are beyond the earliest stages of development, and even the most basic clinical studies are years—up to a decade or more1—in the future. Slightly more than $1 billion was spent on stem cell work in 2005, which again sounds like an impressive sum. (Carrier et al 2007) However, when compared to the total amount spent globally on health-care R&D, it’s less than stellar: a mere 1 percent. (Carrier et al 2007) The analysis cited also takes into account the potential hobbles of heavy government regulation and environmental concerns. Both are highly likely, given the public’s uneasiness with topics related to cloning and human embryos.
The consultants at Bain & Company predict a far more modest forecast of a $100-million market for stem cell therapies by the end of this decade. (Carrier et al 2007) By 2015, the forecast is more optimistic, rising to $2 billion worldwide. (Carrier et al 2007) Again, impressive numbers when viewed in isolation. And yet one cannot help but notice that the conservative forecast for the decade disagrees with the optimistic one pushed by stem cell boosters by a factor of 100. The same ratio holds in the amount spent on health-care R&D: For every dollar spent on stem cells, $100 is placed elsewhere. (Carrier et al 2007)
Another interesting fact is that more than four-fifths of the global investment in stem cells has come from governments. Private venture capital, the traditional engine of biotech start-ups, pumped an anemic $50 million into the field in 2005. (Carrier et al 2007) The trend is sharply higher today, but why has it taken seven years from the time the first stem cell lines were made available to even start to grow? The real issue at hand for the stem cell industry is funding: specifically, federal funding. Due to the compromise worked out by President Bush and the religious conservative wing of his party, federal funding is only available to firms that are working with stem cell lines derived from human embryos before August 9, 2001. (Carrier et al 2007)
There was a strong backlash against this decision by groups who wanted to press stem cell research forward as quickly as possible. Proposition 71 passed by California voters to hand over $3 billion in state money, was only the beginning. (Carrier et al 2007) Just as California tends to set trends for the rest of the country in terms of culture, the West Coast’s cutting-edge initiative system tends to do the same thing. California’s measure has set off similar legislative issues in other states.
When most people talk about cloning, they generally mean the copying of the entire organism, as in the case of Dolly the sheep. Since this is the kind of cloning that yields offspring, for clarity it is called reproductive cloning. At present, researching this kind or cloning to create new human beings is shunned in the scientific community, and nations that have any laws on the books at all in regards to stem cell research and cloning embryos expressly forbid the reproductive cloning of humans. When discussing the benefits of stem cell research, however, what is actually being discussed is therapeutic cloning. This is when embryonic stem cells are harvested from the newly created embryo and expanded in a culture dish. (Holland et al 2006) Though the goal in therapeutic cloning is different, both types of cloning yield a clump of cells that has the potential to grow into a whole organism.