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US stem cell news

28 November 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 336

Human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) researchers participating in a state-wide conference in the US state of New Jersey have warned that 'lip service' to the research and the provision of adequate state funds is not good enough, and that researchers could shift to other states that offer better incentives. Both the acting State Governor Richard Codey and Jon Corzine, the Governor-elect, have declared funding for ES cell research to be a top priority. But, said Wise Young, one of the founding directors of the New Brunswick-based Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey, 'if politicians don't do something in the next year, they should kiss the effort goodbye'.

In January, Codey pledged to invest $380 million in ES cell research in the state, and in July, the New Jersey Senate approved, by 21-14 votes, a bill which would allocate $150 million to the construction of a dedicated ES cell research centre. The rest would come from a $230 million bond referendum for research grants, in a similar way to the way the state of California granted ES cell research funding last November. Voters in the state will be asked to cast the decision on this issue in the 6 November ballot this year. Codey, who steps down in less than two months, has said that passing these two initiatives will be one of his main efforts in the time he has left. However, Corzine, who made ES cell research one of the focuses of his electoral campaign, says that he would prefer to pass his own plan for a stem-cell bond referendum of $250 million or more, although he supports Codey's efforts.

Meanwhile, in the state of Illinois, grants for ES cell researchers will begin to be issued next month, after $10 million was allocated in the state budget for the research. In July, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich used an executive order to circumvent the legislature and allocate the funds to ES cell research. Illinois became the fourth state to devote public money to the controversial research after California, New Jersey and Connecticut. In September, an executive committee of the Illinois House of Representatives approved by ten votes to three a proposal to use the state funds in ES cell research and establish the 'Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute'. The Institute, which is supervised by the Department of Public Health, is in control of the state funding and will issue the grants. Jennifer Williams, a state health spokesperson, said that an advisory panel of state experts will determine who receives the grants so there are no conflicts of interest.

In Missouri, a campaign against ES cell research is being led by Catholic bishops in response to a campaign launched last week in favour of ES cell research in the state. The Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures launched a state-wide advertising campaign asking voters to sign petitions which will enable it to put a measure in favour of ES cell research on next year's ballot. The group needs 145,000 signatures and, if it gets them, the pro-research proposal will be seen on the November 2006 ballot. The petitions were a response to efforts in the state legislature designed to restrict the research in the state.

Now, the Catholic Church has said that 'the state's four Roman Catholic dioceses will use the first Sunday of Advent to launch a campaign aimed at keeping Catholics from signing the petition, and to teach them the Catholic view of the issue', which opposes ES cell research because it involves the destruction of human embryos. The Church has also asked every Catholic parish in the state to hold an educational event to discuss the topic. Writing in the press, Archbishop Raymond Burke said that 'to sign a petition favoring the initiative is to promote the culture of death which tragically besets our nation and constitutes a cooperation in the destruction of human lives at their very beginning'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Bishops preach against stem-cell research
Seattle PI |  25 November 2005
Catholic clergy will oppose embryonic cell research from pulpit
St. Louis Post-Dispatch |  24 November 2005
Stem-cell researchers urge funding
The Philadelphia Enquirer |  22 November 2005
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