The first chairman has been appointed to oversee the newly created Californian Institute for Regenerative Medicine, it was reported last week. Robert N Klein, a real estate developer, was also one of the brains behind Proposition 71, the bill passed on 2 November that allowed California to break away from federal restrictions on stem cell research. A policy put in place by President Bush on 9 August 2001 prevents federal funds being spent on research on embryonic stem cells (ES cells) created after that date. Klein now begins a six-year term in charge of the panel - known as the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee - which will decide how funds will be spent on stem cell research in the state.
The passage of Proposition 71, also known as the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, established California as the first US state to publicly fund ES cell research. It 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 provided for the creation of the 29-member Oversight Committee - appointed by the governor, chancellors of the University of California, and other officials - which will determine how the funds are to be administered.
In Maryland, a bill has been put forward by Democratic state Senator Paula Hollinger, which would allow ES cell research to be funded by the state. The bill is due to be considered in the next legislative session, which begins in January 2005. However, the bill, titled the 'Ronald Reagan and Christopher Reeve Stem Cell Research Act', has raised the hackles of some Republican state Senators, who have written a letter to the Senate committee chair objecting to the use of the former president's name. They claim that he would not have supported such a measure, saying 'we find it hard to believe that President Reagan would support a measure that would be at the expense of so many innocent lives'.
The Maryland bill follows in the wake of other state bills - from New Jersey, Wisconsin and Illinois - which will provide state funding for ES cell research, hoping to stave off a 'brain drain' of researchers to California. According to USA Today, 'pro-research' bills are also likely to reach the ballot box next year in Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire and Washington state. However, ES cell research is being fought against in other states: Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Virginia and North and South Dakota all already either ban or restrict ES cell research in some way. In 2005, other states, namely Missouri, Kansas and Louisiana, will also consider a ban. It is also likely that the ES cell debate will be revisited in Congress.