Wednesday, January 11, 2006

BALTIMORE — Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday proposed $20 million in state funds for stem-cell research.

The research funds, under the governor’s proposal, would be disbursed through a committee controlled by his administration, alleviating concerns among Maryland religious groups that the studies would involve embryonic stem-cell research, considered a form of abortion by some.

“Clearly, no one is going to be funding embryonic, because in 25 years, there have been nothing but miserable failures,” said Nancy Fortier, an associate director at the Maryland Catholic Conference. “Nonembryonic is what is being used to treat cancer, blindness, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease. The $20 million is going to be distributed by capable, unbiased people on a review board.”

Still, the governor did not rule out embryonic research.

“If it’s embryonic with the best chance for therapeutic results, it will be embryonic,” said Mr. Ehrlich, a Methodist.

Mr. Ehrlich said a committee, yet to be named, at the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO), “will make those decisions.”

Chris Foster, deputy secretary at the Department of Business and Economic Development, will work with TEDCO to select the eight- to 12-person review committee.

Mr. Foster, a gubernatorial appointee and former federal researcher, said the committee will include representatives from research universities like Johns Hopkins University and the biotechnology industry and will solicit proposals for research.

“We’ll use a model very similar to NIH. We know how they work,” Mr. Foster said.

Mr. Ehrlich did not support an attempt last year by Democratic legislators to fund stem-cell research, including embryonic stem-cell research. The bill stalled in the Senate.

Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, Baltimore Democrat, and Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, Baltimore County Democrat, who were last year’s sponsors, are again sponsoring bills in their respective chambers that would provide $25 million over five years for stem-cell research.

Mr. Ehrlich’s one-year proposal includes $13 million for a new Center for Regenerative Research at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, where he made his announcement yesterday.

Mrs. Hollinger said that the governor’s proposal was “a step in the right direction, but that in order to do it right, we need to pass our legislation.”

TEDCO, she said, doesn’t “have the scientific or bioethics expertise.” Mrs. Hollinger’s bill would create a Maryland Scientific Peer Review Committee that would award grants through the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Susan O’Brien, spokeswoman for Maryland Families for Stem-Cell Research, called TEDCO a “political peer review,” instead of “scientific peer review.”

“It absolutely has to have scientific peer review, not a politically appointed board,” she said.

Mr. Ehrlich, in response, said, “What’s not political? What we’re trying to do is maximize science, not divide people.”

TEDCO was created in 1998 by the state legislature and exists to promote “technology-based economic development.” It is governed by a 15-member board appointed by the governor with “advice and consent of the Senate,” according to its Web site.

Maryland Families for Stem-Cell Research is headed by former Gov. Harry Hughes, whose wife has Parkinson’s disease. Mr. Hughes was supposed to attend the governor’s press conference yesterday, but did not come because of a “family emergency.”

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide