Bills May Force Researchers to Relocate: Growth of Wealthy Stowers Institute in Question

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The blanket anti-cloning bills in the Missouri General Assembly didn't make it out of committee for deliberation on * the floor this year. But proponents of the bills will be gearing up for next session. ff successful, they could force biomedical researchers to go elsewhere.

State Sen. Matt Bartle's bill, which would criminalize somatic cell nuclear transfer--and an identical bill sponsored in the Missouri House by Rep. Jim Lembke--would prohibit "creation of a human being by any means, other than by the fertilization of a naturally intact oocyte of a human female by a naturally intact sperm of a human male." The law would essentially criminalize somatic cell nuclear transfer.

Anyone participating in such an act or using public funds and public facilities for such purposes of human cloning would be guilty of a Class B felony.

The legislation would inhibit biomedical research in the state, says William Neaves, president and CEO of Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo. Already the threat of such legislation has had a chilling effect.

"We strongly support the ability to do somatic cell nuclear transfer research in Missouri," Neaves said. "The institute and governing board believe that that avenue of research is so important that if it became illegal to do research in Missouri, the institute would not be able to fulfill its desire to confine the future growth of the institute to Missouri."

Rose Windmiller, head of government relations at Washington University in St. Louis, said her institution opposes any legislation that would stand in the way of biomedical research that includes somatic cell nuclear transfer. The university is the other major medical research institution in Missouri currently doing stem cell research.

Presently, scientists at Washington University and the Stowers Institute rely on chick embryos, fish, cat, mice, sea urchins and yeast for their research. According to Stowers, humans have genetic make-ups similar to these model species. These species' genes, however, tend to mutate more quickly than their human counterparts, making them useful in studying the way disease affects different parts of the genome.

One of the most important researchers in the field, physician and neuroscientist John W. McDonald, now has his lab at Washington University. His influential work has included the successful use of stem cell therapies on spinal cord injuries in mice. Among McDonald's patients is actor Christopher Reeve. Another Washington University researcher, Steve Titelbaum has founded a biotech company.

While adult stem cells are good for treating some diseases, particularly those of the blood, embryonic stem cells and those produced by somatic cell nuclear transfer are thought to be useful for a wide range of diseases and tissue and organ repair. Adult stem cells don't reproduce well in the laboratory, but stem cells extracted from the blastocyst of a somatic cell tend to reproduce quickly and for a long time.

Bartle has introduced his legislation in the Senate two years running. Lembke took over a bill this year that had been introduced in the House for several years. Both say they will introduce their bills again when the legislature reconvenes in the fall.

The stakes are high in a debate that pits medical researchers, who argue that embryonic stem cell research holds the key to curing disease, against religious antiabortion and pro-life advocates. Opponents see even the prospects of creating stem cells with somatic or adult ceils from donors for use in those same donors as the creation of individual life. Trading even one human life, opponents argue, isn't worth the return in money--federal, state, local and private.

Bartle and Lembke have serious backers* The Missouri Catholic Conference and Missouri Right to Life have both come out strongly in favor of their legislation. St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, who has spoken out strongly in his previous post in La Crosse, Wis. …