GOP reps to Trump: fire NIH Director Collins for stem cell research support

Gallup Poll embryonic stem cells

Should there be a religious or moral litmus test for the NIH Director?

A few dozen super conservative Republican members of Congress have written a letter to President Trump saying he should fire NIH Director Francis Collins.

Why?

Because they claim that Collins is not conservative enough for their taste and in particular they don’t like his support of embryonic stem cell research funding.

You can read the actual letter here and see text in a clip from it below where religion is invoked. Does that mean that if the NIH Director was not a Christian that they would hold it against him/her? It sure sounds that way.Francis Collins fire letter

These Republicans argue in the letter that Dr. Collins is not ‘pro-life’ enough or perhaps moral enough for them so they are telling Trump to fire him. There is no scientific or even logical basis for this proposed action. In fact, this is about as anti-science as it can get. It’s not just putting politics over science, it is also trying to put one religious viewpoint over others and over science.
Gallup Poll embryonic stem cells

Dr. Collins’ views on embryonic stem cells are in reality not extreme as they are in line with those of most Americans and scientists. Americans generally have become more supportive of embryonic stem cell research in the past 10-15 years and this consistently shows up in most polls on the topic. For example, in a 2013 Pew poll greater than 2/3 of Americans either voiced support for embryonic stem cell research or felt it wasn’t a moral issue at all. That’s decisive. A more recent Gallup poll is very clear too in terms of Americans favoring embryonic stem cell research by about a 2-1 margin. The fact is that these 41 GOP representatives are the extremists and are trying to force their views onto biomedical science.

Also note that the “human cloning” that is referenced in this letter is not reproductive human cloning (which is actually widely controversial), but rather somatic cell nuclear transfer that can be used to make patient-specific embryonic stem cell lines, which is sometimes referred to as “therapeutic cloning”. It is also worth giving a reminder that the embryos being discussed here are left over, blastocyst embryos from fertility procedures that would otherwise mostly be thrown away as biohazardous waste. Human blastocysts have only about 100 cells, are hard to see with the naked eye, and have no distinctly human features other than their DNA.

With Trump wanting to severely cut NIH funding in general and now these GOP representatives asking for a new, uber-conservative NIH Director who will likely put science itself as a low priority and their own specific religion first, it is even more important than ever that those of us who support science and specifically biomedical research let our voices be heard. I know many people of faith who support embryonic stem cell research and science more generally. We are stronger when we are united together as advocates. This research has concrete, future potential to help a lot of people as well as end suffering and ongoing early-phase clinical trials for conditions such as paralysis and blindness show promise.

Let’s put science, medicine, and patients first.

13 Comments


  1. This comment troubles me- “Ford” seems to imply that you have not been consistent on this topic. S/he is mistaken. You and dozens of other scientists have been very consistent on this issue. Human embryonic stem cells come from discarded 5-day old embryos left over from IVF procedures, and are donated to research instead of being thrown away. There are no bioethical issues concerning their use in research and as a source of specific cell types to use for cell replacement therapy. “Ford” may have confused your stance on embryonic stem cells with your real concerns about the bioethics of organizations that promise cures using cells that have no medical value…these are “stem cells” obtained from fat or other adult tissues, not embryonic stem cells.
    “Ford”, what did you mean to say?


    • Are you claiming that mesenchymal stem cells from fat, bone marrow or umbilical cord tissue have no medical value?


      • I’ll make nearly that claim: mesenchymal stem cells from fat, bone marrow, or umbilical cord tissue have almost no medical value from a therapeutic perspective with one exception: fat-derived mesenchymal stem cells for cranial bone replacement.

        Scaling up production is too costly and the cells in any other situation basically die during manipulation or shortly after injection anyway. Virtually snake oil.


    • I was looking forward to getting PRP or stem cell injections for my hands. are you saying that those adult stem cell injections dont work at all for orthopedic injuries?


  2. Dear Mr Ford,

    Paul has a remarkably consistent position, in my opinion. Dare I to paraphrase it, it would be that he objects to the misuse of cells to sell cures that don’t work to people who are vulnerable. Of course, opinions differ as to what exactly constitutes “misuse”.

    The evidence is overwhelming that an embryonic cell is not a person.

    On the other hand, the way the world is going — our legal superiors bestow the title “person” on corporations, after all — perhaps being a person isn’t quite what it once was?


  3. Paul,
    A while ago you wrote a note about iPS cells not being so like embryonic cells as was previously presumed.

    At the time, I wondered if anyone had ever tried culturing iPS cells with embryonic cells. My mind had strayed back to experiments where blood of young animals seemed to revive cells of older animals. Obviously, cells create “environments” that affect other cells. It may be worth seeing how iPS cells interact with embryonic cells?

    Is it too much to imagine that embryonic and adult stem cells might, one day, live together in peace and harmony?


  4. I had a stem cell shot about a month ago for a neuroma in my foot which was very painful and a heel spurr– which is slowly working its magic–I would say its a success– I would like to continue seeing this good work occurring in the world.


    • Contact your representatives, and more broadly advocate for stem cell research and science funding. The odds may be against us on the NIH Director position, but we should make an effort.


  5. I predicted that this would happen… it’s in a comment for a blog entry a couple of weeks ago. There has GOT to be a way to convince predictit.com to start a new market based on how long Francis Collins will be staying in office. The irony, of course, is that he’s a deeply religious man and has written many books about the reconciliation of religion and science. You’d think that he’d pass a litmus test if anyone would. But he’s also a rational human being and hasn’t sold his soul to the forces of evil, so of course they’re trying to get rid of him.


  6. “Should there be a religious or moral litmus test for the President or for Congress?”
    Yes, yes there should. Dr. Collins is likely a better human being than any of his religious critics.
    Thanks for your good post, Paul

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