The scientist in society  pg. 3

S. K. Dey, Ph.D.
Photo by Dana Johnson
Scientists here and in Japan have circumvented some of these obstacles by creating induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells in mice and humans through the ectopic expression of four transcription factor genes (Oct4, Sox-2, Klf4 and Myc) in non-embryonic cells. While this is a huge breakthrough in the field, iPS cells must be compared alongside with human embryonic stem cells to determine their utility as true pluripotent cells.

The unwillingness of the U.S. government to allow the expansion of the repertoire of human stem cell lines is having dire consequences on stem cell research and it is driving prominent scientists to pursue their work outside the country.

There is a move by the Center for Scientific Review at the NIH to reorganize the peer review process to reduce the length of grant applications, to ensure high-quality review by experienced reviewers and a quick turn-around time of reviews for new investigators, and to provide an open deadline for submitting grants by reviewers. All of the changes that are being implemented or planned to be implemented have good intentions.

While some of the changes will be welcomed by the investigators, if the funding situation does not significantly improve, we scientists can be listed as an endangered species. This is a very difficult time for the entire research enterprise in the United States, and we -- meaning the government, general public, scientists and their institutional leadership -- must work together to address these issues.

What is the responsibility of the scientist to speak up, to challenge government policies and society itself?

The scientific community should forcefully articulate the problems to the leadership at the institutional, state and federal levels without any reservation. The scientific societies should follow the same suit which they do by lobbying to Washington. These are good practices, but often do not meet with success.

What we need is a “million scientists march” to Washington involving scientists, educators, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, research personnel, people from biotech and pharmaceutical companies, and citizens who care for scientific discoveries that improve health and mankind. This approach may educate the society at large, draw the attention of decision-making bodies and raise the stature of scientific research and the benefits society reaps from it.

The NIH Roadmap and its emphasis on big science and translational research are good concepts, but these concepts should only be pursued if Washington appropriates separate funding to NIH for these purposes, not at the cost of investigator initiated basic science research projects. Otherwise, we may lose a generation of young and mid-career investigators.

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