The US state of Maryland could become the next state to publicly fund human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research. Researchers in the US are prohibited from using federal funds to do work with any ES cell lines created on or after 9 August 2001, following a declaration by President Bush. Some states, notably California, have since passed their own legislation allowing researchers to use state funds for ES cell research.
Last week, Michael Busch, the speaker of Maryland's House of Delegates, introduced the Maryland Stem Cell Research Act of 2006 as House Bill 1 - the first bill of the new legislative session. The bill, if passed, would provide $25 million a year for five years to ES cell research programs, in grants distributed through a specially-created commission, starting in 2008. Last April, state Senators failed to give final approval to a similar bill on ES cell research. The House passed it by 81 votes to 53, but the Senate version was filibustered - or talked out of time. Last August, proponents of ES cell research announced the creation of a non-profit group called Maryland Families for Stem Cell Research, aiming to raise awareness and money for stem cell research in Maryland. The group asked the Maryland Governor to allocate $25 million of the state's 2007 fiscal budget to activities related to ES cell research, but he did not act on the request.
Supporters of the new bill believe that it will enable Maryland to compete against other states that fund ES cell research, and also protect itself from losing scientists to other areas of the country, or even other countries, where ES cell research is less restricted. 'It is essential we stay on the forefront of issues of science and research', said Busch. And a similar bill is expected to be introduced into the state's Senate by Democratic Senator Paula Hollinger, authorising research involving human ES cells, germ cells and adult stem cells. However, according to Senator Alex Mooney, Senate Republicans are again prepared to filibuster to keep the bill from passing. 'We have the votes to kill any pro-abortion bill', he said, adding that 'it's the creating and destruction of human embryos that pro-life people, President Bush and me, and others believe are human lives and should be protected'.
In any case, both the new bills will have to compete with a proposal announced by State Governor Robert Ehrlich last week, which would provide $13 million for a research centre at the University of Maryland and $20 million in research grants to be distributed by the Maryland Technology Corporation (TEDCO). TEDCO, according to the proposal, would fund research projects based on an 'exhaustive and science-based evaluation'. Some people have criticised Erlich for jumping on the 'political bandwagon' and say that his proposal is less than a compromise, because it will favour non-embryonic stem cell research, precisely the kind for which federal funding is available and which President Bush's policies encourage.