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US stem cell update

28 January 2008
Appeared in BioNews 442

Embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research might be back on the election agenda in Michigan this year. The campaign to collect enough signatures to place a measure on the ballot-box that relaxes Michigan's laws on embryo research is gathering pace. Opponents have started to run counter-campaigns to prevent any reform being put to voters. The pro-research group, calling themselves Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures, created the Stem Cell Research Ballot Question Committee last October, which has already raised over $90,000. They would need to collect over 380,000 signatures for the measure to qualify for the ballot-box.

Michigan is currently one of only five states with legislation in place to ban ES cell research; the other states being Arkansas, Louisiana, North and South Dakota. Supporters of the research say that there are thousands of embryos 'left over' from IVF in Michigan, which could be used in research. They claim that since these embryos will be ultimately destroyed, it is inconsistent to prohibit their use in potentially beneficial research.

In response to the drive for an overturning of the current prohibition, Catholic and pro-life organizations have began to run counter-campaigns to build-up opposition before a possible vote on embryo research. The Right to Life of Michigan has launched a $200,000 state-wide television campaign intended to raise awareness of the issue. 'We have heard from the doctors, researchers and politicians in Michigan who want to pursue embryonic stem cell research and human cloning for their own gains', said Right to Life Michigan president Barb Listing, adding, 'now it is time to hear from Michigan individuals who have the most to benefit from research advancements.' The advertisements feature personal testimonies from patients with spinal damage and Parkinson's disease who voice their support for alternative methods of stem cell research, which do not involve the destruction of the embryo. 'With talk of possibly changing the Michigan Constitution to allow the destruction of human embryos and human cloning, we knew it was time to provide the people of Michigan with a life perspective on stem cell research,' said Listing.

The Michigan Catholic Conference has also joined the opposition movement's education campaign by sending informational DVDs to over 500,000 homes. It hopes to inform people of alternative research techniques and the arguments against embryo research.

Elsewhere in the US, legislation has been introduced in New Mexico for the second year running to permit the University of New Mexico to use 'spare' embryos left over from IVF in stem cell research. Governor Bill Richardson has voiced his support for the Bill. 'I want New Mexico to be a leader in stem-cell research, along with Wisconsin and California who, I believe, have the most advanced stem-cell research efforts in a private-public partnership', he said. 'The longer we sit on our hands and do nothing, the more people are going to suffer, without hope for a cure', Richardson added. In Wisconsin, Professor James Thompson, of the University of Wisconsin and the scientist who isolated the world's first ES cell line back in 1998, warned that greater investment in stem cell research was needed if the state was to compete with California. An overall $3 billion commitment to stem cell research was approved by Californian voters in 2004. Thompson said Wisconsin would need $50 million a year to compete with this level of funding.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Bill in legislature would allow stem-cell research
KOB New Mexico |  21 January 2008
Cody Unser, favoring stem cell bill, says walking shouldn't be 'political'
Las Cruces Sun News |  22 January 2008
Embryonic stem cell group raising money for ballot drive
Michigan Live |  21 January 2008
State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer: Mich. has to pursue all cell options
Lansing State Journal |  20 January 2008
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