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CONFUSION IN THE STATES OVER STEM CELLS; FEDERAL ACTION EXPECTED

Genetic Crossroads
March 31st, 2005

Legislators in at least ten states are moving aggressively to commit billions of dollars to fund stem cell research. Much of this effort is driven by compassionate support for medical research.. But much is also driven by exaggerated expectations, perceived political opportunity and interstate rivalry. There is no agreement on common ethical guidelines or degree of oversight needed for this research. The risk that much of this funding will be poorly used is high. Key recent developments are noted below.

Overview: "[T]he battle about the propriety of stem cell research is being waged in state legislatures throughout the country."

New Jersey: "This year, Governor Richard J. Codey announced a $380 million investment - the second largest state investment in the nation -- to build the Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey and to finance promising stem cell research."

Illinois: "The Senate Health and Human Services Committee passed legislation to place a referendum on the November 2006 ballot asking voters to support stem cell research in Illinois. Approval would permit the state to sell $1 billion worth of bonds to create the Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute…"

New York: "Proponents of stem cell research in New York are warning that the state of New Jersey is making a well-funded push to recruit scientists away from New York institutions. Advertisements have appeared in the New York Times and other publications touting New Jersey's $150 million investment in stem cell research…. The organization wants $100 million in the state's new 2005 to 2006 budget for stem cell research, with a similar commitment every year over the next decade."

Connecticut: "Governor Rell has proposed 20 million dollars for stem cell research over two years. But some scientists are saying the state needs to spend five times that amount over ten years to attract the best researchers."

Florida: "[A] private group, Cures for Florida, is campaigning for a $1-billion-plus state ballot initiative for ES cell research."

Washington: "Despite concerns about human cloning and the state's budget squeeze, a proposed $350 million fund to boost health-related research is drawing strong bipartisan support in Olympia. The Life Sciences Discovery Fund… would use a portion of the state's tobacco settlement to give Washington scientists a financial boost… If the fund is approved, Washington would be a late entry into the national race to lock in shares of the emerging life-sciences economy."

Wisconsin: "Gov. Jim Doyle unveiled plans to invest nearly $750 million to bolster stem cell research and other scientific efforts in Wisconsin. The governor wants to use a combination of public and private money to pay for his strategy, which would include a new $375 million research institute that would house laboratories for stem cell and other biomedical research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison."

Delaware: "As a growing number of states skirt federal restrictions and put their own money into stem cell research, some in Delaware worry the state and its burgeoning biotechnology industry will be pushed to the fringes of a research gold rush.... Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., one of the leading proponents of stem cell research in Congress, said Delaware must act to protect its young biotechnology initiatives, most of which are focused at the University of Delaware through the Delaware Biotechnology Institute."

Maryland: "The House of Delegates approved Monday a divisive bill to channel $23 million a year to embryonic stem cell research, voting 81-53 after an emotional debate in which numerous delegates came forward to explain their votes before the final roll call."

Pennsylvania: "State House Democratic Whip Mike Veon and state Reps Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, and Babette Josephs, D-Phila., called for a commitment to stem cell research in Pennsylvania - removing any prohibitions against using public money, and creating a dedicated half-billion dollar fund and the formation of a council to oversee that fund."

The irrational exuberance in support of stem cell funding at the state level derives in large part from the unnecessarily strict limits on stem cell research at the federal level. There is evidence of bipartisan support for relaxation of these limits. Ideally, a responsible program of federally funded stem cell research would obviate the need for the many independent state programs. But once major state-level programs are established, institutional momentum will sustain them for some time.

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