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.

7 thoughts on “Bernie Sanders Mixed Record on Stem Cells”

  1. Has any proven therapy come from IPS cells? Until that time comes, let’s not call any of that therapeutic either. Perhaps if some of the “dubious” stem cell clinics had inside connections to the CIRM elite and therefore access to multi-million dollar grants like Stem Cells Inc, they’d be able to run FDA trials without having to ask subjects to chip in. Speaking of CIRM, “How many connected scientists and academic researchers does is take to blow billions of dollars and produce nothing of value for the public in 10 years?” Answer – “We don’t know, we’re still counting.”

  2. None of your wannabe president gang have anything even remotely resembling an education in science. That’s par for the course, almost everywhere. Angela Merkel being a notable exception.

    But then again, not having a background in science may make it easier to understand that “a stem cell is a drug”. Beats me.

    Remember, when it comes to politics, they play and you pay…

  3. Anonymous Stem Cell Repairman

    I’m yet to be convinced that SCNT is a good idea for…well, anything really, so this doesn’t really bother me. Mostly, because we scientists (a sweeping generalization ahead) don’t particularly concern ourselves without the philosophical or ethical implications of our research (we just want study cool stuff and understand things better), we tend not to think about how society perceives what we do.

    Maybe imprisonment is a little…extreme, but it’s framed in terms of what someone less ethical could do with that knowledge (probably think along the lines of the movie GATTACA). The more likely interpretation is this is all pandering one way or the other. This is the endgame of having a poorly-science-informed public, kiddos.

    1. @Repairman, You raise some good points. I too am skeptical of SCNT for various reasons from a clinical perspective, which is why I usually (but sometimes forget) to avoid calling it therapeutic cloning since no therapy has been proven to come of it, yet at least. I think it is a cool method that may lead to basic science discoveries. I also pointed out in my book and I think here on the blog that SCNT could pave the way for reproductive cloning of humans at some future point so that’s a risk.
      What got to me most on Bernie’s votes on this was the criminalization part, but I need to read up more on these past bills and also on Hillary’s record.
      Thanks for the comment.

    1. Thanks, Don. I was surprised to learn more about this as to how Bernie voted. I like Bernie on a number of levels, but this is very concerning.

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