The Impact of Commercialisation on Public Perceptions of Stem Cell Research: Exploring Differences Across the Use of Induced Pluripotent Cells, Human and Animal Embryos
The development of pluripotent cells that enable stem cell research (SCR) without destroying human embryos is now a leading priority for science. Public and political controversies associated with human embryonic SCR experienced in the recent past should be alleviated if scientists no longer need to harvest cells from human embryos. This research suggests however additional issues needing attention in order to gain the public’s trust and support: the use of mouse embryos and the commercialisation of research. Using a representative sample of 2,800 Australians, and an experimental telephone survey design, this research compared levels and predictors of public support for stem cell research across three cell source conditions: human embryo (HE), mouse embryo (ME) and induced pluripotent cells (iPSCs). The results revealed that the public were significantly more likely to support research using iPSCs than HE and ME cells and public compared to private research (regardless of the cell source). There was no significant difference in support for HE compared to ME research, but the former was viewed as more likely to lead to accessible health care benefits and to be associated with more trustworthy scientists. The results of a multimediation structural equation model showed that the primary reason support for SCR significantly dropped in a private compared to public context (i.e., the commercialisation effect) was because public scientists were trusted more than private scientists. This effect was consistent across all three SCR materials, suggesting that the use of mouse embryos or even iPSCs will not reduce the publics’ concern with commercialised science. The implications these results have for public acceptance of stem cell and animal research are discussed in relation to possible solutions such as increasing public awareness of the regulation of animal research and benefit sharing.
KeywordsEmbryonic stem cell research Public attitudes Commercialisation of science Animal experimentation Trust in science
Firstly we would like to thank the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Professor Russell Crawford for funding the data collection of this research via the Swinburne National Technology and Society Monitor. We would also like to acknowledge the efforts of our CATI team, including the interviewers, supervisors and technical staff. Thanks are also needed to Jarrod Walshe for assistance with script writing, response rate calculations, data cleaning and general technical assistance. The authors would also like to thank the thoughtful comments made by two anonymous reviewers which significantly improved the initial manuscript. Christine Critchley who is the guarantor, wrote the manuscript, conducted the statistical analysis and contributed to the design of the research. Gordana Bruce played a significant role in managing the CATI facility and all aspects of data collection, as well as contributing to questionnaire design and editing of the manuscript. Mathew Farrugia contributed to the editing of the manuscript, literature reviews and the design of the research.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare no potential conflicts of interest.
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