Magazine article State Legislatures

The Stem Cell Race: Hoping for a Piece of the Stem-Cell Research Pie, Legislators and Governors Are Hurrying to Establish Programs. but Not All Lawmakers Are Eager to Embrace of Finance Them

Magazine article State Legislatures

The Stem Cell Race: Hoping for a Piece of the Stem-Cell Research Pie, Legislators and Governors Are Hurrying to Establish Programs. but Not All Lawmakers Are Eager to Embrace of Finance Them

Article excerpt

In the months since the fall elections, lawmakers in statehouses across the country have been racing to propose stem-cell-research programs worth up to $1 billion in state money.

Their actions come at a difficult time for state governments. Many face tight budgets. And a thorny ethical debate, played out in the presidential election and beginning again at the state level, has surrounded the research since scientists first isolated human embryonic stem cells and said the cells could help treat conditions like diabetes and Parkinson's disease.

But lawmakers say they have little choice but to act. California voters passed a $3 billion ballot initiative in November to finance stem-cell research. That has led officials in other states to fear that scientists will follow the money and head west. And they don't see help coming from the federal government either, which hasn't given any indication that it will change its policy of restricting money provided by the National Institutes of Health for such research.

In January, New Jersey and New York proposed plans worth a total of nearly $1.4 billion to shore up their positions alongside California.

New Jersey's Senate president and acting governor, Richard J. Codey, made stem-cell research a core issue in his State of the State address by proposing a $380 million program. (New Jersey is the only state other than California to have enacted a law expressly supporting stem-cell research.) In New York, Senator David A. Paterson proposed a $1 billion initiative to set up the New York Stem Cell Research Institute and provide research grants over the next decade.

REACTION TO PRESIDENT

As more states begin to follow California's lead, advocates of the research like Daniel Perry are striking an optimistic chord.

"Had President Bush opened the doors to full funding of NIH to fund research on stem cells, I dare say we would not be seeing as much public funding as we are seeing today," said Perry, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, a Washington, D.C.,-based advocacy group.

In August 2001 President Bush said the federal government would limit its financing of research on human embryonic stem cells to studies involving cells from colonies, or lines, that existed at the time. While it was once thought that as many as 78 lines would be eligible for NIH funds, only 22 are currently available, an amount that many scientists says is insufficient for new research.

In FY 2003, the NIH provided $24 million for 118 grants on stem-cell research.

James F. Battey Jr., chairman of the NIH Stem Cell Task Force, said the amount of federal money provided depended on the number and quality of grant applications in a given year.

"We have not had a cap on the amount of money we're prepared to spend," he said.

Dr. Battey added that he didn't think the federal government would compete with state plans.

"How do I see the federal effort and the state efforts? I see them as complementary," he said.

KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES

But with some $300 million a year for stem-cell research in the state, California's commitment dwarfs the federal government's financial support. It even puts California on the same level as places like Sweden and Singapore that have made stem-cell research a national priority. The state is now in the process of setting up the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine after voters passed Proposition 71 with nearly 60 percent of the vote.

That's why states that have already invested in biomedical research feel the need to protect their resources.

"We're seeing a lot of keeping up with the Joneses from an economic perspective," said Patrick Kelly, vice president of state-government relations at the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

Two weeks after Proposition 71 passed, Governor Jim Doyle of Wisconsin announced a $7S0 million biotechnology, health-sciences and stem-cell research plan, including $37S million for a research institute to be housed on the University of Wisconsin's Madison campus. …

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