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US stem cell news

18 April 2006
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 354

Eliot Spitzer, New York's Attorney General and candidate for Governor, says that if he is elected state Governor in Autumn, his administration would push for a referendum to pay for embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research in the state, in a similar way to the state of California. He says he would ask voters to approve $1 billion in bonds over 10 years, but in order to do so, both chambers of the State legislature, as well as the Governor, would have to first approve the idea. The proposal also includes the appointment of a bioethics review panel and a board to review ES cell research projects before awarding grants.

Spitzer says that the 'vast majority of New Yorkers' support ES cell research, and that the money, if raised, would be 'dollars well spent'. State Senator David Paterson, who co-developed the proposal, said that he and Spitzer favour research on surplus embryos created for fertility treatment and no longer required by the patients. He added that neither of them support human cloning and plan to advocate for its prohibition.

Meanwhile, the Californian Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), which was set up following a referendum in November 2004, has announced that the first of its grants have finally been awarded, amounting to $12.1 million. In 2004, 59 per cent of Californians voted in favour of Proposition 71, which established the CIRM and authorised it to issue bonds to fund $3 billion of grants for ES cell research. However, because of lawsuits brought against CIRM, no funds had so far been issued. Earlier this month, a state panel authorised the CIRM to borrow up to $200 million from large philanthropic organisations in the form of 'bond anticipation notes' so that it can begin to issue grants. Since then, six private organisations and charitable foundations came forward to purchase $14 million worth of short term bond anticipation notes to fund the CIRM until the legal challenges are over. The grants issued last week will go towards the training of 169 students in 16 institutions for doctoral and clinical ES and adult stem cell programmes. 'We are now officially a grant-making entity', said Robert Klein, chair of the CIRM.

In the State of Illinois, a judge has ruled against blocking an executive order from Governor Rod Blagojevich that authorised the use of state funds for ES cell research. In September 2005, an executive committee of the Illinois House of Representatives approved by ten votes to three a proposal to use state funds for ES cell research. The bill, sponsored by Republican Tom Cross, would establish the Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute and the use of state money to fund it. Advocates of ES cell research tried to amend the bill to extend its provisions and called for a state referendum in 2006, asking whether $1 billion in bonds over ten years can be spent on the institute. State Governor Rod Blagojevich said that the IRMI will be committed to conducting all aspects of stem cell research, both ES cell research and adult stem cell research. 'Since the federal government has chosen to stall the medical advancements that will come with stem cell research, it is up to the states to take action', he said at the time. However, in November, it was announced that grants for ES cell researchers would be issued from December, after $10 million was allocated in the state budget for medical research - in July, Governor Blagojevich used an executive order to circumvent the legislature and allocate the funds - but this was challenged in the courts by lawyer Richard Caro, who said he wanted to see public debate on the issue. Now, Judge James Henry has said that this order was not an abuse of power, leaving the way free for the funds to be allocated. 'It is clearly a political issue', said Judge Henry, adding 'it's not for the legislature to decide'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Judge won't block gov's stem cell program
Chicago Sun Times |  15 April 2006
Spitzer Unveils $1 Billion Stem Cell Proposal
The New York Times |  11 April 2006
Stem Cell Institute Awards 1st Grants
LA Times |  11 April 2006
Stem cell research gets first grants after 2-year delay
San Francisco Chronicle |  11 April 2006
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