- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — After 10 years with juvenile diabetes and 10,000 insulin injections, 12-year-old Bryan Coble would be overjoyed if researchers found a cure for diabetes.

“Please pass this law,” he said yesterday at a press conference held by sponsors of a bill that would provide $25 million per year in state funds to pay for embryonic stem-cell research.

“I would give anything to one day be a normal person without diabetes,” Bryan said. “I wouldn’t have to work so hard just to stay alive.”

Bryan’s testimony was preceded by that of his 14-year-old sister, Anne, who was diagnosed a year ago with aggressive rheumatoid arthritis and who suffers at times from pain that she said seems unbearable.

“This bill should be passed so I can live pain-free,” she said.

The Coble children and other patients with Parkinson’s disease, partial paralysis from a spinal cord injury, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — a debilitating nerve disorder that is incurable and fatal — provided human faces to the swirling debate surrounding stem-cell research.

They were joined by two former governors — Harry R. Hughes and William Donald Schaefer — and other supporters to kick off the campaign for the bill sponsored by two Democratic lawmakers, Paula C. Hollinger of Baltimore County in the Senate and Samuel I. Rosenberg of Baltimore in the House.

The bill would set up a legal framework for the state to provide funds for stem-cell research performed in Maryland on human embryos and would create a commission to review and rank research proposals. It also would ban human cloning.

Mrs. Hollinger said embryonic stem-cell research “offers hope for people who either have dreadful diseases, whether they are young or old, or dreadful injuries, whether they are young or old.”

Mr. Rosenberg said the funding also would help Maryland’s biotechnology industry, a national leader in the field. With California voters approving $3 billion in research funding over 10 years and other states considering similar moves, Mr. Rosenberg said, Maryland risks losing its biotech edge unless it supports stem-cell research to keep top-notch researchers in the state.

The bill puts the legislature into the middle of an emotional national debate over stem-cell research and whether it holds out false promises or real hope for cures to a variety of medical problems such as spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

Some states are considering providing funds for research because President Bush prohibited the use of federal money for research on any new embryonic stem-cell lines. Federal funds are available for research on adult stem cells and on embryonic stem-cell lines that had been developed before the president’s policy was put into place.

Embryonic stem cells, which are formed in the first days after an egg is fertilized, are the building block for the numerous types of cells that form the bones, skin, flesh and organs of the human body. Supporters of embryonic stem cell research say it holds great promise for finding cures for many illnesses.

But opponents, who showed up for the press conference to press their case, argue that research on embryos requires destroying a human life and holds less promise than research on adult stem cells.

Leigh Heller, lobbyist for Maryland Right to Life, said research on embryonic stem cells has been going on for 20 years without producing any cures, while adult stem-cell research has produced results that are helping people with diabetes and other diseases.

Mr. Hughes said he is involved in the campaign to pass the bill “for very personal reasons.” His wife, Pat, has Parkinson’s disease, and his 17-year-old grandson, Andrew, was diagnosed with diabetes 10 years ago.

“These are two people very dear to me who would benefit from stem cell research,” Mr. Hughes said.

Mr. Schaefer said he supports the bill even though he has not been personally touched by the kinds of illnesses that could benefit from stem-cell research.

“I just don’t understand people who are not 100 percent behind something that will do some good,” he said.

The bill has broad support in the legislature, but there are also opponents — including the Maryland Catholic Conference and pro-life lawmakers — who want to kill it. Mrs. Hollinger said she already is hearing talk of a filibuster to prohibit a vote on her bill in the Senate.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, has not taken a position on the bill, but Ehrlich spokesman Henry P. Fawell said the governor is a strong supporter of the biotech industry and will take a close look at the bill if it passes the legislature.

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