- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Opponents of state funding for research on stem cells taken from human embryos failed yesterday to dilute a bill that would provide $25 million a year to pay for research projects conducted in Maryland.

Votes on five amendments offered by Republican delegates indicated the bill will have more than enough support when it comes up for a final vote in the House, probably later this week.

A similar bill is expected to come before the state Senate this week or next. Opponents plan a filibuster that they hope will kill the bill by keeping it from coming to a vote.

The one major difference between the two proposals involves funding.

Unlike the House bill, the Senate version does not guarantee future funding, leaving it to the governor to decide each year how much money to put into the budget for stem-cell research.

Embryonic stem cells are the building blocks for all of the body’s organs and tissues.

Researchers hope to use the cells’ special qualities to develop ways to replace diseased or damaged tissue, finding treatments for diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes and stimulating growth of new nerves in people paralyzed by spinal cord injuries.

Opponents object to the research because embryos are destroyed when the stem cells are extracted.

They argue that research on adult stem cells is morally preferable and holds out more promise for treating incurable diseases.

During House debate, opponents first tried to delete a section of the bill requiring that research on embryonic stem cells get priority over research on adult stem cells when state funds are dispensed.

House Minority Whip Anthony O’Donnell, Calvert Republican, told delegates it would be a mistake to give a preference “to research that has not helped out anyone as yet.”

Research on adult stem cells has already produced treatments for numerous medical conditions, and money spent on that kind of research “will offer the best hope for our citizens seeking cures for incurable diseases,” he said.

Delegate Peter Hammen, Baltimore Democrat, said the bill gives priority to embryonic stem-cell research because President Bush severely limited the use of federal funds for research involving embryos.

Responding to critics who said adult stem-cell research is yielding results while embryonic stem-cell research is not, Mr. Hammen said research on adult stem cells began almost 50 years ago, while research on embryos is a new field that could lead to cures for intractable diseases.

“We want to make sure the funding is there to cure these horrible diseases. People in this state are depending on us, and it [state funding] is a small price to pay,” he said.

Mr. O’Donnell’s amendment was rejected on a 87-48 roll call that fell mostly on party lines, with Republicans voting mostly for the amendment and Democrats opposing it. Seventy-two votes will be required for the bill to pass the House and move to the Senate.

The House also rejected four other amendments, including proposals to take out the guaranteed annual funding and prohibit spending any state money for research on embryos.

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