Journalists Banned From Stem Cell Meeting

By: Paul Elias, AP Biotechnology Writer

(AP) Journalists will be barred from a scientific conference next month that will bring together some of the best minds in stem cell science, one of the most promising — and controversial — areas of medical research.

The two-day conference, organized by the Strategic Research Institute, will draw scientists, biotech executives, venture capitalists, patent attorneys, and a representative from the President’s Council on Bioethics. Journalists, though, will have to wait outside.

“I instituted this years ago as some members of your profession have caused irreparable … damage with speaker relationships and in some cases their companies over coverage,” Strategic Research executive Mark Alexay wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “Hence no coverage. Over and out.”

Conference organizers said some speakers also may be discussing sensitive research data they do not want publicized yet.

As a private company, New York-based Strategic Research has no obligation to open its doors to the media. Strategic Research organizes conferences for several industries, including aerospace, finance, and insurance.

The stem cell conference will begin Oct. 8 and cover such topics as intellectual property, cloning, and stem cell biology.

At least one scheduled speaker, David Ayares of PPL Therapeutics, the company that cloned the sheep Dolly, said he plans to present data he does not want publicized.

Conference chairman Dr. Doros Platika, president and chief executive of Cambridge, Mass.-based Centagenetix Inc., said he was unaware of the media ban until he was informed by a reporter.

Religious conservatives and biotechnology foes oppose human embryonic stem cell research as immoral because days-old embryos must be destroyed in the process. “It’s likely they are trying to keep a low profile until they can announce something positive,” said Daniel McConchie of the Christian-based Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.

Joel Martin, a conference panelist and partner with the San Diego venture capital firm Forward Ventures, disputed that: “Restricting the press raises the impression that something improper is being discussed, and that’s not going to be case.” Martin and others said they believe media coverage would do more good than harm for a field facing significant scientific, financial, and legal obstacles.

Last year, the Bush administration limited federal funding of human embryonic stem cells to 78 stem cell lines controlled by 14 different government-approved labs. But only a few of the approved stem cell lines are fit for research, with demand far outstripping supply.

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