Pro-lifers eye Kansas for top study of stem cells; no embryo use at proposed center

Long clouded by ethical concerns, medical treatments and research based on stem cells taken from adults or the umbilical cords of newborns — but not human embryos — are getting renewed support from lawmakers and religious leaders.

In the deep-red state of Kansas, lawmakers are waiting to see whether Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, will sign a bill making the University of Kansas Medical Center a hub for adult stem cell research and therapies in the region.

Mr. Brownback, a social conservative who promised to build a “culture of life” in the state, has signaled support for such a center. The bill passed the Legislature on Friday but has not reached his office, an aide said Wednesday.

If enacted, the new Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center would focus on research and therapies exclusively using stem cells from human adults and cord blood and tissue. Stem cells harvested from human embryos or tissues from aborted fetuses would be specifically prohibited.

Treatments exploiting the unique qualities of stem cells biological cells with the ability to reproduce and develop into specialized cells used throughout the body have been used for decades to cure some diseases, and researchers say the approach has exciting potential to treat or cure maladies such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease and autoimmune diseases.

** FILE ** This mouse was produced from stem cells coaxed from skin tissue of adult mice and then reprogrammed. Two teams of Chinese scientists have made a major advance in the development of a new kind of stem cell that doesn't involve destroying embryos. (AP Photo/Nature, Dr. Qi Zhou)

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** FILE ** This mouse was produced from stem cells coaxed from ... more >

However, political, legal and cultural battles have abounded since scientists discovered in the 1990s that they could use human embryos as sources for “harvesting” stem cells. Pro-life and Catholic groups denounced the process because it destroys the embryos, but scientists said such research can be carried out ethically, especially when the benefits are so promising.

The center is being proposed after seven years of efforts to create partnerships around the adult stem cell approach, said Kathy Ostrowski, legislative director of Kansans for Life, sidestepping the moral minefield that has held back research in the United States.

The University of Kansas Medical Center is active in adult stem cell clinical trials and research, and this first-of-its-kind center would be “an economic engine in this strategic field” as well as “a gold mine for treatments and cures,” Ms. Ostrowski said.

The proposed Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center which would partner with the Blood and Marrow Transplant Center of Kansas would produce clinical-grade stem cells and conduct clinical trials with adult stem cell therapies, creating opportunities for people with diseases or injuries to participate in such trials.

During legislative hearings on the proposed stem cell center, no one testified against the idea. However, critics noted that while Kansas lawmakers established a way for donations to come to the new center, they didn’t authorize any state money for it.

The center would cost $10.7 million over 10 years, with $1.1 million needed for fiscal 2014, according to a legislative analysis.

Ms. Ostrowski was not dismayed by the prospect of fundraising.

“There is money out there,” she said, noting that the U.S. military, pro-life activists and numerous foundations and organizations have a strong interest in accelerating such therapies.

“The climate is right” for collaboration, she said.

The Vatican this week is hosting a second international conference on adult stem cell research and therapies.

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About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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