September 19, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Bernie Sanders Mixed Record on Stem Cells

Bernie Sanders has a mixed record on funding of stem cell research.
Bernie Sanders has a mixed record on funding of stem cell research.

The Capitol Times in Wisconsin ran a story just before the primary there on Bernie Sanders on Stem Cells, indicating that has held anti-stem cell research positions.

It can sometimes be hard to figure out politicians’ positions on stem cells and what actions they might take. Update: See this poll on what people predicted the Trump administration would do on stem cells (spoiler: many thought there be restrictions).

More specifically the Bernie article focuses on statements from former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, a Hillary supporter, attacking Bernie’s positions on stem cell research as well as citing an AP report that compares Bernie and Hillary’s positions on biomedical research.

Is this meme regarding Bernie on stem cells based on facts?

There are some real reasons for concern over Sander’s past track record of votes related to stem cell research and in particular to somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). For instance, the idea of criminalizing SCNT (also known as therapeutic cloning) for scientists is troubling:

“Sanders cosponsored bills in 2003 and 2005 that would have made scientists who conducted therapeutic cloning research subject to up to 10 years in prison.

Around the same time, Clinton co-sponsored bills in the Senate that would have expanded stem cell research. She also supported a measure in 2005 to ban human cloning while allowing scientists to conduct stem cell research.”

Us scientists take talk of throwing us in jail for doing research pretty seriously. I’m not clear on what Bernie was thinking in reportedly supporting such measures. So far I haven’t found a clear rationale for those votes.

Related to the SCNT votes the AP quotes internationally respected researcher Harold Varmus, former Director of the National Cancer Institute, in questioning Bernie’s perspectives on science:

“We were looking for signs that he is going to be a supporter of what science and technology can do and I think everyone in the country ought to be worried about that,” said Dr. Harold Varmus, the Nobel Prize-winning former NIH director under President Bill Clinton.

“I am quite concerned about his stance on these issues,” Varmus said. “This is a litmus test. It was 10 years ago — it’s still a test that he failed in the view of many of us.”

On the other hand Bernie seems to be a consistent supporter of embryonic stem cell research:

“Sanders’ campaign policy director, Warren Gunnels, said in a statement Saturday that Sanders “strongly supports stem cell research, including research on embryonic stem cells. He understands that stem cell research holds the possibility of remarkable discoveries, even cures, for many illnesses — from Parkinson’s and diabetes to Alzheimer’s and arthritis.” He noted that Sanders supported 2006 legislation to lift funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.”

I’m still doing more research on the candidate’s positions on science more generally, but I was surprised to learn about Bernie’s mixed voting record on stem cells and the criminalization part is very troubling.

At this time I’m not sure who I’m going to vote for, but their positions on science will be influential in my decision.

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