Fears of brain drain from Scotland as Obama lifts stem-cell ban
PRESIDENT Barack Obama's decision to lift a ban on public funding for stem-cell research in the United States might lead to a "brain drain" from Scotland, scientists have warned.
Scotland leads the field in many areas of stem-cell research, such as neurology, liver disease, diabetes, eye conditions and bone repair, and it is estimated it could be worth 50 million to the Scottish economy by 2015.
But there are fears stem-cell scientists might be attracted by the large sums of money on offer in the US. A moratorium on US state-funded research brought in by Mr Obama's predecessor, George Bush, in 2001 has enabled Scotland to strengthen its position, say experts.
However, some fear Mr Obama's announcement yesterday that he was lifting the ban on federal funding may see Scotland's competitive advantage eroded.
Dr Stephen Minger, of King's College London, a stem-cell scientist who left the US for Britain, said large amounts of funding on offer in America could be "tempting".
He continued: "The UK remains an extremely competitive place to do stem-cell research, but if that is to be maintained, then the government needs to make a sustained commitment to funding the field properly. Competition for grants is extremely fierce, and many good funding applications are being turned down. We want to keep British scientists in Britain, but if the NIH (US National Institutes of Health] does make a lot of money available, that will be tempting to many people."
His view was echoed by Dr Brendon Noble, from Edinburgh University's Centre for Regenerative Medicine, who said that it was difficult to compete with salaries in the US.
However, Dr Marilyn Robertson, a director of the Scottish Stem Cell Network, believes it will only be a problem if governments in the UK change their funding habits.
"Undeniably, if an increased amount of funding in any part of the world happens at the same time as a decrease at home, then (a brain drain] is going to happen," she said. "We have seen a similar situation with the Far East. China and Singapore have been putting a lot of funding into stem-cell research.
"In the UK, with the kind of sums being allocated through the Medical Research Council and through Scottish Enterprise, as long as we don't see that disappear, then we are in a very good shape to compete."
She believes that Mr Obama's decision could have positive consequences for research in the UK.
"We see it as probably being likely to open up opportunities," she said. "It has not always been terribly easy to collaborate with our American colleagues, and this could open the door to more collaboration."
And Dr Robertson thinks Scotland's strong track record in stem-cell research will stand the country in good stead, even in the face of greater competition.
"We have the track record of the knowledge and know-how, and also the regulatory and public understanding," she said. "That makes it a very attractive place for people to look to do research."
Mr Obama said yesterday that he was opening the door for America to "lead the world" in the field, and highlighted that past decisions meant some of its best scientists had left for other countries that would sponsor their work.
Stem cells, which possess the ability to develop into almost any other cell type in the body, hold the promise of cures for diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. However, Mr Bush thought the research crossed a moral line, because the cells are harvested from embryos that are destroyed in the process.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 25 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 20 mph
Wind direction: North east