Statement:Yesterday’s injunction forbidding the use of federal funds to support embryonic stem cell research threatens the progress of our work and dashes the hopes of patients and their families facing illnesses who will someday benefit from this research. As of today, experiments and studies currently being supported with federal grant dollars will now depend upon support from private donations, and in these difficult economic times, philanthropy is not a viable funding source for research. This decision is a tragic setback not only for patients but for the whole field of stem cell research.–Leonard Zon, MD and George Q. Daley, MD, PhD
Before March 2009, when President Obama expanded federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, scientists like those at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute depended on private philanthropy to support their work and maintained dual sets of equipment and supplies to ensure that no federal funds were used on human embryonic stem cell research.
Since the institute was initiated in 2004, it has raised about $90 million in private funding, according to spokesman B.D. Colen. Since federal funding for the research was expanded, about $5.6 million in federal grants to support human embryonic stem cell research have been awarded to Harvard scientists — not including researchers affiliated with hospitals.
“This for me emphasizes just how important private philanthropy has been and will continue to be — it’s the only durable and consistent source” of funding, said Douglas Melton, codirector of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, who said he has two grants he was preparing to submit to NIH and two active federal grants supporting human embryonic stem cell research in his lab. “We’re on this seesaw.”
Among the projects financed with this money is research by Dr. Doug Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, to find a cure for juvenile diabetes. His two children — a 19-year-old son and a 23-year-old daughter — have the disease. Both must inject themselves with insulin, and he said they frequently ask about his work.
Dr. Melton said he was relieved to learn that his present grants would be unaffected by the ruling. But he has been working for months on writing a grant that he was about to submit for more work using human embryonic stem cells, and he feared it would be rejected.
“Imagine when you go home tonight and your son or daughter says, ‘Dad, have you solved this problem?’ ” Dr. Melton asked. “You don’t forget those things.”