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US stem cell state funding news

13 March 2006
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 349

The Senate of the US state of Maryland has approved a bill that would establish guidelines for state funding of stem cell research, by 29 votes to 18. However, unlike the bill passed recently by the House of Delegates (HB1), which would authorise $25 million for such work, the Senate bill would leave funding decisions up to future governors. 'The good news is, both houses have passed a bill', said House Speaker Michael Busch, but he posed the question 'can we go forward in an incremental way with what the Senate has passed?'

HB1 was introduced to the house in January by Busch as the Maryland Stem Cell Research Act of 2006 - the first bill of the new legislative session. The bill would authorise funds for five years for research using human embryonic stem cells (ES cells), as well as adult stem cells. The Senate version of the bill narrowly escaped an attempted filibuster last week, and was passed on Thursday, with only one Republican voting for the bill, and five Democrat Senators voting against it. The turning point in the debate was reported to be the removal of a provision that would have given priority to projects using ES cells.

The Senate bill will now go to two House committees, where it could be amended, but if neither chamber approves the other's bill then a conference committee may work on a compromise. State governor Robert Ehrlich said he is reserving judgement until a bill reaches his desk, but has praised the Senate for 'clearly moving in the right direction'.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the Senate Budget Committee has approved a bill that would provide $150 million towards the construction of a dedicated ES cell research centre. In January 2005, Richard Codey, the then State Governor, pledged to invest $380 million in ES cell research in the state. The measures were passed by the Senate but not by the Assembly. However, Codey now has the support of Assembly leaders, as well as Governor Jon Corzine. 'We're all committed to doing this as soon as possible', he said last week, adding 'this is about finally sending a message we want to be a leader, not a laggard, in finding cures'.

In California, four research institutes are discussing plans to jointly ask for state funds to build a new facility for human ES cell research. The University of California San Diego, the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, the Scripps Research Institute and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies would not seek individual grants, and instead would fund, build and operate the facility between themselves. A new building is needed because of federal restrictions that bar scientists from carrying out ES cell research in labs that receive US government funding. In November 2004, 59 per cent of Californians voted in favour of Proposition 71, which established the Californian Institute for Regenerative Medicine and authorised it to issue bonds to fund $3 billion of grants for ES cell research. However, because of pending lawsuits brought against CIRM, no funds have yet been issued.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Codey still bullish on stem-cell research bill
Philadelphia Inquirer |  7 March 2006
Locla alliance for stem cell research proposed
The San Diego Union Tribune |  9 March 2006
Senate Passes Bill on Stem Cell Funding
The Washington Post |  10 March 2006
Senate passes stem cell bill
The Baltimore Sun |  9 March 2006
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