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On the Cutting Edge of Science

The recent presidential election brought the topic of embryonic stem cell research to the forefront of public debate. Despite the moral controversy, stem cell research is a burgeoning field.

Dr. George Q. Daley knows that it takes a thick skin to make it in the medical research field. Not only does he have to go toe to toe with his peers to defend his research and conclusions, but he’s even had to go before the Senate to defend his line of work.

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Daley, an associate professor of pediatrics and biological chemistry at the Harvard School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Boston, heads a lab of about 25 scientists who study embryonic stem cells. Additionally, they work with therapeutic cloning, like that used to produce Dolly the sheep. While criticism of his work is often heaped on with praise, Daley is undeterred.

“I feel incredibly driven and I feel that the work that we do is not only important, but highly morally justified,” he says. “In fact, I feel it imperative to the work. But it’s always uncomfortable that I can’t convince everyone of the intrinsic value of the science.”

Daley feels the field is so exciting and worthwhile because it has the ability to go from basic research to clinical applications that save lives. Proponents believe stem cell research holds the key to curing diseases because of the stem cell’s ability to theoretically divide without limit and develop into many different types of cells that can replace sick cells.

“[Stem cell research] is going to emerge as a new discipline with its own unifying principles, message and logic,” says Daley. “It’s really something that will translate itself from the bench to the bedside.”

As a physician scientist, Daley also does clinical work outside the lab. However, he spends about 80% of his time on research and the remainder split between teaching and patients. The combination allows him to satisfy his own intellectual curiosity, while at the same time allowing him to help educate the scientists of the future and treat sick children.

“If you’re hoping to work within private industry rather than an academic setting, the field of stem cell research isn’t quite ready,” Daley warns. That means dealing with what he describes as the worst part of the job: hassling for funds.

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