Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Wired has a couple articles about former motocross racer Ricky James Jr, who tried to donate his life's savings to a Geron, a company set up to perform stem cells research on spinal injury repair. The work, being done by Hans Keirstead, is being done in private industry to get around the idiotic issues (IMO) that the US government has set in place to deter stem cell research. They DO need money to complete the work, and Mr. James Jr thought he would help by donating $200,000.

Keirstead declined the offer, saying, "I explained to Ricky that these fund raisers are aimed at raising money to help people in his situation not to take from them."

I'm going to add a little controversy. Ready? Before you continue to read, I am making an argument, not taking a position. I happen to think that what Keirstead did was appropriate, but here's the other side of the coin. It can be argued that Keirstead took the easy way out, and I offer the following three points:

1) Accepting money from a person hoping that your research produces viable applications for treating their own condition makes the situation personal. You're no longer doing research to treat a condition; you're doing research to treat a person. The reality of the situation is too much.
2) Why deny money from a celebrity, especially in a situation where private funding is necessary? Why is it okay to parade Michael J. Fox around for Parkinson's research, but not accept Ricky's donation? My point is that there is a disconnect. It is easier to not deal with the media implications and attention than turn down the donation.
3) The obligatory journal paper introduction always gives the broader implications of research, but I think either many researchers aren't actually aware of the work to bring a treatment to market, or the journal reviewers have made competition for publication such that these little intro blurbs have expanded to over-generalized and over-summarized to the point where the complexity of the groundwork is lost even to other researchers. My point? Dealing with the real complexities no longer requires a couple paragraphs - it requires a ****load of work.

As I said, these aren't my views, but they underline the complexity of dealing with research on the cusp of application. These are issues any scientist looking to move into industry must deal with, and I thought I would throw them out there. Again, no offense meant, I'm just making a point. I personally applaud Keirstead for his choice, and consider it "the gentleman's approach".


IConrad said...

Consider the following: the gentleman now has firmly established humanitarian credentials, a vital tool for fundraising in and of itself.

All things considered, a cold-hearted calculator would make the same move.

Brandon King said...

Exactly my point. I don't know the guy, but I will assume, because I'm generally an optimist, that he's doing it with the best intentions in mind. But, if I were bizzaro him (evil), I would do the same thing.

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