In a protest against government limits on embryonic stem cell work, billionaire and high-tech entrepreneur Jim Clark announced today that he would withhold $60 million of a $150 million gift pledged to Stanford University for biomedical research. Stanford representatives said they were saddened, but that construction on the James H. Clark Center for Biomedical Engineering and Sciences would continue, as would the creation of the interdisciplinary Bio-X program, set to be housed in the new building.
In an opinion piece in today's issue of The New York Times, Clark announced that he would suspend his donation "pending the outcome of ongoing political deliberations." The U.S. House of Representatives voted last month to ban all forms of nuclear transfer with human cells, which would shut the door to so-called nonreproductive cloning (ScienceNOW, 1 August). The Senate has not yet taken up the measure, but President George W. Bush has said he opposes all such research. In addition, Bush has limited federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells to 64 cell lines in existence on 9 August (ScienceNOW, 10 August).
Clark, the founder of Silicon Graphics, Netscape, and WebMD, wrote in his commentary that work with human embryonic stem cells as well as the use of nuclear transfer technology to make genetically matched stem cell lines "is vital to the future of medicine." He added that undue restrictions on such research "will cause the United States to miss a revolution in biology," and he had reluctantly decided to suspend further contributions "until our lawmakers decide to pursue what I believe to be a rational course in this vital part of our national future."
Most researchers at Bio-X share Clark's opinion, but the suspension will have a big impact on their work, says biochemist and program director James Spudich. The $90 million already donated will pay for the building, but new money will have to be raised to get the research under way. Although he's careful not to criticize Clark's decision, "we'll have to scramble for the next few years" to make up for the lost funds, Spudich says.