Voters in the US state of California have passed Proposition 71, a bill also known as the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative. Fifty-nine per cent of people voted in favour, with 41 per cent voting against the measure, which will establish California as the first state to publicly fund embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research. Polls indicated that voting was influenced by recent advertising campaigns - especially those featuring the late Christopher Reeve, who campaigned in favour of ES cell research, and actor Michael J Fox (a Parkinson's disease sufferer). Voters were also apparently influenced by the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican state Governor, had recently come out in favour of the proposition.
The California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative will provide $295 million in state funds annually, over a ten year period, to Californian universities, institutes and companies wishing to conduct ES cell research, subject to certain limits. Reproductive cloning is expressly prohibited, and ES cells must be derived from embryos that are less than 14 days old. Much of the initial funding will be spent on research facilities. The initiative also provides for the creation of a 29-member panel - appointed by the governor, chancellors of the University of California, and other officials - which will determine how the funds will be administered.
Supporters of the initiative say that Proposition 71's passage could make California a world leader in one of the 'most promising, though controversial' fields of biology, and is likely to attract scientists and businesses to the state. This is made all the more likely following President Bush's re-election to the White House, since publicly-funded ES cell research is restricted across the rest of the US by a policy established by Bush on 9 August 2001. Bush limited the availability of federal funds to researchers working on ES cell lines already in existence by that date, but many scientists believe that there are too few of these lines and that those available to them have limited usefulness. This is because they are too difficult to keep alive and were initially grown using mouse 'feeder' cells, which would cause them to be rejected by patients' immune systems, diminishing their potential as a medical treatment. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, had promised to abandon the restrictions placed on ES cell research by Bush if elected.
The new ES cell policy in California may also 'prompt other states to enact similar programs in defiance of Bush administration policy', say supporters. Dan Perry, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research said that there will be 'many states who are going to try to follow California's lead', adding that 'California may end up dragging the rest of the country into the game'. In the state itself, ES cell research companies and academic scientists are already said to be 'straining like greyhounds at the starting gate' to apply for research grants. Others are beginning to see wider-scale implications of California's departure from national policy. Professor George Daley, from Harvard University in Massachusetts, where a stem cell research institute was recently launched, said, 'we here in Massachusetts are not going to take this lying down', adding 'we're going to have to work extra hard to make sure we don't lose our best junior scientists to California'.