Up until now, our holiday gift suggestions have been catering to the physics fanatics and the space geeks. It's time to turn to the biologists toiling amid the scientific ranks and contemplate what might make a good gift for them. I'm thinking a holiday tin full of stem cells. 2009 was a banner year for stem cell research in the United States, with President Obama issuing Executive Order (EO) 13505, which essentially removed barriers to responsible scientific research involving human stem cells.
Before the executive order was issued, U.S. scientists doing federally funded research could access 21 lines created before Aug. 9, 2001, according to NPR. That number was blown to bits just within the past month. The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has approved 40 new lines that are eligible for use in federally funded research. At least 11 of them are compliments of one George Q. Daley, an M.D., Ph.D. and stem cell scientist at Harvard. You can see all the approved stem cell lines at the NIH registry here. And there are a whole lot more on the docket, waiting to be reviewed.
I'd be remiss if I didn't add that although scientists got the go-ahead to work with a whole lot more stem cell lines, they still can't use federal funds to extract them or destroy embryos.
Of course, stem cells derived from human embryos come with a hefty side order of controversy. That may not be what you're going for this holiday season. If that's the case, you can always give your scientist some adult stem cells instead. Whatever route you pick, your scientist is going to be champing at the bit to start experimenting with them, and possibly discovering all sorts of new treatments. Whether he or she develops an innovative therapy for people who've had heart attacks or makes a whole new windpipe for someone, this is a gift that's going to keep on giving.
If you can't get a hold of some stem cell lines in time for Christmas -- or at all -- you could always throw my first suggestion out the window and opt for something simpler. Like an owl pellet from the folks at Pellets Inc. Who needs to grow new body parts and stamp out disease when you can spend an afternoon reconstructing what an owl ate for dinner?
You can think about that while looking over our other suggestions for scientific stocking stuffers below. Spiffy New Threads and Sweet Reads Virgin Galactic Tickets and a Tattoo A Plane Ticket to Switzerland? Funding