- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2007

While Congress wrangles with President Bush over federal funding for stem-cell research, states are boosting funding for the breakthrough science.

Maryland is making $15 million available for research using both adult and embryonic stem cells, and this week the Maryland Stem Cell Commission announced it has received applications seeking more than $80 million in research funding.

Federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research is allowed only for research using stem-cell lines created before Aug. 10, 2001. Mr. Bush vetoed a bill that year that would have expanded eligible stem-cell lines to include cells derived from embryos created for fertility treatments and donated by patients.

Opponents of embryonic stem-cell research think it is immoral to destroy human embryos, even for medical research.

Last week, the House again passed legislation to expand federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. The Senate will consider a similar bill today. The bill’s prospects appear dim, however, because the White House has threatened another veto and the House vote was 37 votes shy of the 290 needed to override it.

States now are rushing to fill the federal funding void.

California voters in 2004 passed Proposition 71, which, although mired in litigation, created a $3 billion pool of public funds to distribute to embryonic stem-cell researchers.

Connecticut plans to award $100 million over 10 years for embryonic stem-cell research, while Illinois budgeted $10 million last year and Democratic Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich supports legislation that would allocate an additional $100 million from the state’s tobacco settlement to fund the research over five years.

This week, the New Jersey General Assembly began debate over a proposed referendum to borrow $230 million for stem-cell research over the next seven years, including embryonic stem-cell research.

Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine said he plans to build biomedical labs including a New Jersey Stem Cell Research Institute.

Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer this month urged the New York state legislature to pass a $2 billion, 10-year bond initiative for scientific research and development, at least half of which will be earmarked for stem-cell research.

Some states are providing funds for the science, but their resources are limited. Without federal funding, embryonic stem-cell research advocates say, the U.S. will fall behind in this emerging field.

“There’s no question that federal funding would change the way stem-cell research is done throughout the country,” said Leonard Zon, director of stem-cell research at Children’s Hospital in Boston.

Stem-cell research is still a nascent science. Scientists first developed the research technique at the University of Wisconsin in 1998. The bulk of stem-cell research is being conducted by academic institutions and federal facilities such as the National Institutes of Health, rather than by private biotech companies.

“Federal funding is crucial at the basic research stage,” said Patrick Kelly, vice president of state government relations at the Biotechnology Industry Association. “Academic institutions turn over the research to private firms, which develop the commercial treatments. But without the basic research, these firms won’t have a viable product to convince private equity firms to fund through clinical trials.”

Health Care runs Fridays. Contact Gregory Lopes at 202/636-4892 or at glopes@washingtontimes.com.

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