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Intel chairman Andy Grove has decided to cut the Gordian knot of controversy surrounding stem cell research by simply writing a check.

The check, which he pledged last week, could be for as much as $5 million, depending on how many donors make gifts of between $50,000 and $500,000, which he has promised to match. It will be made out to the University of California-San Francisco(UCSF).

Thanks in part to such private donations, university research into uses for human stem cells–the cells at the earliest stages of development that can form any body part–will continue in California. With private financial support, the state will be less likely to lose talented scientists who would be tempted to leave the field or even leave the country as research dependent on federal money slows to glacial pace.

Hindered by limits President Bush placed on stem cell research a year ago, scientists are turning to laboratories that can carry out work without using federal money. This is awkward for universities, which must spend extra money building separate labs and keeping rigorous records proving no federal funds were involved. Grove’s donation, a first step toward a $20 million target at UCSF, will ease the burden.

The president’s decision a year ago to allow research on already existing stem cell lines was portrayed as a reasonable compromise between scientists’ needs for cells to work with, and concerns that this kind of research could lead to wholesale creation and destruction of human embryos, cloned infants and a general contempt for human life.

But Bush’s effort to please both sides ended up pleasing neither. And it certainly didn’t provide the basis for cutting edge research. Of the 78 existing stem cell lines which Bush said are all that science would ever need, only one is in this country (at the University of Wisconsin) and only five are ready for distribution to researchers. All were grown in conjunction with mouse cells, making future therapeutic uses unlikely.

The Bush administration seems bent on satisfying the small but vocal group of Americans who oppose stem cell research under any conditions. Fortunately, Grove and others are more interested in advancing scientific research that could benefit the large number of Americans who suffer from Parkinson’s disease, nerve injuries, heart diseases and many other problems.