ARTICLE IN BRIEF
- ✓ While Congress debates the future of stem cell research, state legislatures are moving ahead to approve — or prohibit — use of embryonic stem cells.
On the heels of activity on the national level regarding embryonic stem cell legislation — see “White House Backs ‘Alternative’ Stem Cell Bill in Senate,” page XX — several states have moved the issue forward by encouraging or prohibiting the use of funds for embryonic stem cell research.
In Florida, the Senate Commerce Committee approved a bill (SB 750) sponsored by Democrat Sen. Steven Geller that would provide no less than $20 million each year for embryonic, amniotic, and adult stem cell research for a period of 10 years. In February, Republican Governor Charlie Crist — who opposed President Bush's veto of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 (HR 810) — proposed that the state spend $20 million on non-embryonic stem cell research due to the expected resistance to embryonic stem cell research from the state Legislature.
The Florida Senate Health Policy Committee also passed the bill (SB 2496) by Republican Sen. Mike Haridopolos that would prohibit using state funding for embryonic stem cell research, but would instead provide money for research on stem cells originating from sources like umbilical cord blood. Known as the HOPE Act, the legislation initially included $20 million a year for stem cell research, but the revised version does not specify a dollar amount.
In Maryland, a $30 billion budget for fiscal year 2008 — $23 million of which is earmarked for stem cell research — was approved by the General Assembly in early April, effective July 1. Although Democrat Governor Martin O'Malley had requested $25 million for stem cell research, the $23 million approved budget amount reflects an increase from the budgeted $15 million this year.
In Texas, the House State Affairs Committee recently approved a bill (HB 225) that would ban state funding for biomedical research that was prohibited from receiving federal funding as of Jan. 1. That could impact funding for stem cell research, since the current federal policy only funds research using embryonic stem cell lines created on or before Aug. 9, 2001.
Meanwhile, the Texas House State Affairs Committee is also debating a bill (HB 2704) that would prohibit human cloning — creating a genetically identical copy of an existing, or previously existing, human being — but allow therapeutic cloning — creating an ovum with a donor nucleus. Also undergoing debate is a bill (HB 1486) that would establish a stem cell research institute.
One stem cell investigator told Neurology Today that she wished stem cell scientists were asked for their advice more often. “The additional funding for stem cell research is welcome, but few legislators are scientists, and the decision about what type of stem cell research should be done should be informed by science, not politics,” said Jeanne Loring, PhD, adjunct associate professor and stem cell researcher at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in California. “The lawmakers appear to be uninformed about the differences between embryonic stem cells and somatic (‘adult’) cells from umbilical blood, amniotic fluid, and bone marrow. There is no excuse today for not knowing that embryonic stem cells come from donated IVF embryos that would otherwise be destroyed,” she said in an e-mail.
Commenting on the “ideological battle” of embryonic stem cell funding being waged in states nationwide, Paul Wolpe, PhD, professor in the departments of psychiatry, medical ethics, and sociology, and senior fellow at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said: “It is heartening to see a serious debate about the ethics of science going on in our society. But this particular debate is a continuation of the ongoing discussion over the status of the embryo, and our failure to resolve it as a society has serious implications for science, health care, and economic growth.”
He continued: “International research on embryonic stem cells is progressing at a dizzying pace, and America — where they were discovered — is falling behind. It is not so much because of the federal ban, but because the overall political climate is so uncertain and, in that kind of atmosphere, things like raising venture capital or finding young scientists willing to stake their careers on the future legality of working with embryonic stem cells really impairs the enterprise.”