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California and stem cells: not all news from the US is bad

8 November 2004
By Dr Kirsty Horsey
reproduction editor, BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 283
Last week, US voters handed George W Bush a second term as president. Exit polls showed that one of the reasons he was re-elected - although the result was close, Kerry winning 49 per cent of votes - was his commitment to 'moral values'. This, presumably, includes not only abortion and gay marriage (issues likely to become prominent with Bush's re-election, a Republican majority in both the Senate and Congress, and the opportunity to replace members of the Supreme Court), but the unwavering stance Bush has taken on embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research. It may be that some voters found that they simply couldn't vote for John Kerry because of his support for research that inevitably causes the destruction of embryos, seen by some as the destruction of a full human life.

So Bush's ES cell policy in the US will continue. Despite opposition from much of the scientific community, federally-funded scientists will only be able to work on older, less effective cell lines, grown using mouse 'feeder' cells and therefore unsuitable for use in humans at any stage. However, it wasn't all bad news for ES cell researchers after the election results came in last week. As an adjunct to the presidential election, on the California ballot was a proposition that would give $3 billion to fund ES cell research in California, the largest US state. This was passed by 59 percent of votes to 41 per cent - not necessarily surprising if the weight of the 'yes' campaign is considered, both financially and in terms of popular figures who gave their support to the cause.What the Californian vote means is that Californian scientists will be able to conduct ES cell research on new cell lines, paid for by state funds, circumventing the limits placed on them by Bush. They will have new facilities, be overseen by a new agency and the annual budget for research in California ($295 million) is now more than 10 times that which the Bush administration (which revelled in the claim that he was the 'only president ever to give money for stem cell research') spends on ES cell research. All this is likely to make California, in time, a world leader in the field, and will encourage scientists and companies from other states to move there, meaning a 'brain drain' from the rest of the US working under Bush's restrictive policy.

California, a state that, despite a budget deficit, is taking the risk of welcoming a new and promising science, should be congratulated. Media reports say it will become a 'mecca' or 'epicentre' of research and the new policy could 're-create the gold rush'. Other US states are worried that their own stem cell projects will become eclipsed - Massachusetts in particular, as Harvard University tries to raise private money for its stem cell centre, and Advanced Cell Technology, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company, has announced plans to set up shop in California. Others say that the sheer weight of dollars behind the California stem cell project will threaten Britain and other nation's 'global lead' in stem cell research. None of this really matters - it can only be a good thing for California to become a world leader in this science. The more world leaders, the better, as the closer we might get to practical applications in people currently living with incurable conditions.

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22 November 2004 - by BioNews 
The Senate in the state of Illinois, US, last week narrowly rejected a bill that would have promoted human embryonic stem (ES) cell research in the state. The senators voted 29-28 against Bill 3598, with one senator voting 'present', effectively abstaining from the vote. The bill needed 30 votes...
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