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Stem Cell Initiative: Where We are One Year Later

Written by on Sunday, November 27th, 2005

In today’s San Jose Mercury News, Steve Johnson writes about where California and other states are one year after California voters approved the $3 billion stem cell initiative. According to Johnson, “[S]o far, stem-cell scientists, companies, and their supporters have little to cheer about.”

Johnson further reports:

California’s program, which was designed to get around severe federal limits on such research, has been bottled up by two lawsuits. And because of a national stem-cell backlash, only two states — Connecticut and Illinois — allocated money for stem-cell studies this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.

Worse for stem-cell advocates, several states — including South Dakota, Arizona and Nebraska — passed laws this year limiting stem-cell research. In other states, the issue sparked nasty battles likely to rage into next year’s legislative session.

Stem cell research, of course, is controversial because human embryos are destroyed in the process. Also at issue is a laboratory technique caled somatic cell nuclear transfer, where the nucleus of a cell is place into an egg which has already had its nucleus removed.

Advocates for stem cell research argue that this kind of research is critical because of its potential for curing such medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and and spinal cord injuries.

Due to the continuing controversy, however, the advancement of stem cell research continues to be thwarted. As Johnson writes:

So far, only five states have passed money for stem-cell studies, and merely a trickle of that has gotten to researchers.

The first to approve financing was Ohio. In 2003 it set aside $19.5 million, some of which already has been given to scientists. New Jersey approved $9.5 million in May 2004 and another $10.5 million this year, with $5 million due to be awarded to researchers in December.

This year, Connecticut followed suit with $100 million and Illinois set aside $10 million, although neither is expected to begin spending the money until 2006.

The biggest state program by far is California’s $3 billion stem-cell research effort, which voters approved in a November 2004 ballot initiative. But lawsuits by anti-abortion activists, who claim California’s program lacks proper state oversight and is riddled with conflicts of interest, have delayed the sale of state bonds needed to finance the effort.

When you look at this issue, you have to wonder if state-funded research is really a workable solution. If California, one of the most liberal and progressive states in the country, has difficulty getting a stem cell research program off the ground, it seems unlikely that other states could make it happen either.

Whether you oppose or support the concept of stem cell research, the fact remains that the allocation of $3 billion from a state budget is a tremendous allocation of resources, and it is inevitable that the allocation of that money will become entwined with political concerns.

So where will we be a year later on this issue? It’s not out of the question that we will be at the very same place where we are now.

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