Friday, November 16, 2007

Jaenisch On Iran

Rudolf Jaenisch, arguably the foremost stem cell researcher in the world, certainly doesn't shy away from politics. Last time I saw him speak, his lab had engineered the "ethical" stem cell, but he also dedicated quite a few slides to ridiculing US anti-stem cell research policies. Now he's tackling American anti-Iran extremism, with this article on his recent trip to a stem cell conference in Tehran:

"Delays and setbacks are built into the scientific process no matter where it occurs, but researchers in Iran face an additional burden imposed, largely, by politics. Cell biologists lack even the machines that sort cells by surface-protein markers because the necessary US-made equipment cannot be imported. They cannot perform many experiments that we consider routine, but rely on collaborators who have the necessary equipment. Even when equipment has been procured, Iranian researchers face logistics that prevent them from getting on with their experiments.

It seems to me that these restrictions are not in anyone's interest. Scientists themselves exacerbate the situation, fuelled by misinformation that they put themselves at personal risk by travelling to Iran. Of course, people who would not be able to refrain from political discussion or dress as expected would be wise not to go. But the vast majority of scientists would find themselves surrounded, as I was, by courteous, hospitable, well-informed men and women who relish interaction with other scientists. Unfounded apprehensions about the risks of travelling to Iran effectively add a scientific embargo to the politcal one.

"There are clear differences between our countries, but these fade in the laboratory as we approach scientific questions. Furthermore, attitudes and policies that stifle scientific work and collaboration hinder not only science, but also international relations. When we don't have an exchange of ideas, we foster fanaticism and intolerance; this is something that science could help to counteract."

I think it's commendable that Jaenisch has the guts to take positions that powerful people in his country might disagree with, rather than bury his head in the sand alongside many of his colleagues.


The Key Question said...

Interesting post. Before this article I wasn't aware that Iran permitted research on embryonic stem cells as a matter of national policy, but they do.

Here are the other nations that have permissive policy on ES research.

Oh, and Fresh Brainz has moved to

Please update your blogroll, thanks!

Bayman said...

Interesting point. I guess Iran is more liberal and progressive than the US when it comes to biomedical research.