Mass debate on stem cell research

Embryonic stem cellsJust £300,000 (about $600k) is being plugged into a national public debate by the UK government on stem cell research. According to Science and Innovation Minister Malcolm Wicks the UK’s two major public funders of stem cell research will use the cash to run a national public discussion about this cutting-edge area of science.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC) will receive the funding as part of the government’s ScienceWise initiative. The aim will be to find out what are the public’s concerns, views and attitudes to this face-most moving area of science. It will also provide a forum for revealing the challenges that researchers face and the potential benefits of stem cell science.

At today’s launch Wicks said: “The Government believes that stem cell research offers enormous potential to deliver new treatments for many devastating diseases where there is currently no effective cure. Huge numbers of people are affected by these diseases and Britain is a world-leader in stem cell research. But there must be a proper dialogue with the wider public on the future of stem cell research. We need to raise public awareness about the potential opportunities
and challenges in this area.”

One key element of the initiative is to raise awareness of the world-class stem cell
research being carried out in the UK, at centres such as Newcastle University, and the progress being made towards practical treatments.

BBSRC’s Julia Goodfellow added, “It is essential that scientists working in areas such as stem cell research engage in a real dialogue with the public. The new programme will give scientists, funders and the government up-to-date information on what the public really think about stem cell research while giving people the chance to voice their views and concerns.” So, basically repeating what Wicks said. The MRC’s chief Colin Blakemore, had a slightly different slant. “Scientists who work
on stem cells want to ensure they maintain the trust and support of the public for their research,” he said. “But to achieve this, we need to explain what work is being carried out and why it’s being done.”

So, is £300,000 enough to do the job? Compare this with the ludicrous amounts of money available to anti-science type lobby groups which amount to millions and it really does look like a pittance. Half of that amount could easily be eaten up by an independent designer putting together a corporate logo for the project and the other half will have gone on snacks and wine for the launch party buffet, or am I being far, far too cynical? You tell me.