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New Support for Stem Cell Research

New Jersey will approve $500 million to support research, but federal action is still needed to push life-saving innovation forward.

Legislators in New Jersey have announced that next month they will approve a $500 million plan to support stem cell research in the state. State efforts, coupled with the political successes of candidates in 2006 who support embryonic stem cell research, have demonstrated the importance of this issue to the American public, and will hopefully encourage the federal government to respond in kind.

While states continue to pioneer embryonic stem cell research using the newest and most useful stem cell lines, the federal government continues to restrict its funding to outdated ones. States have been admirable in their support for stem cell research, but greater federal action, specifically leadership, financial support, and research coordination, are needed to truly move the research forward.

New Jersey’s stem cell research plan will make it a leader among states in supporting the research. The commitment of $500 million would be second only to California’s $3 billion in funding. Additional state funding has been provided in Wisconsin, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, and Maine, and there are also proposals for future funding in New York and New Mexico.

These states’ commitment of resources will not only benefit the 100 million Americans currently suffering from diseases that could be treated through stem cell research, but also improve their local economies. New Jersey is positioned to benefit economically by attracting private biotechnology companies and top level researchers, and creating jobs. Similar interest in the economic benefits of stem cell research to the states led to the passage of a constitutional amendment in Missouri that protects the research.

Yet the efforts in New Jersey, as well as in other states, continue to be hampered by federal inaction. President Bush’s restrictive stem cell policy limits federal funding to research using outdated embryonic stem cell lines, even though newer, more promising lines have since been developed. Thus federal money for stem cell research, which represents 90 percent of all public money spent on the research, is being used inefficiently, effectively being wasted.

Worse yet, the federal policy forces states to waste money building new infrastructure, purchasing redundant equipment, and creating new bureaucracies. Because federal funding cannot be used on newer stem cell lines, states cannot use existing federally funded facilities and equipment, instead purchasing and building new ones. As of August 2006, only 14 percent of state funding for stem cell research went to actual research.

The lack of federal leadership and research coordination in embryonic stem cell research has also led to a patchwork quilt of regulation, with different states adopting their own standards. To date, most states have adopted regulations very similar to the guidelines for embryonic stem cell research designed by the National Academies. However, differing standards in the states could create confusion and slow the pace of science, leading to further redundancy and waste.

Support for embryonic stem cell research is clear, as demonstrated by opinion polls, election results, and bipartisan support in Congress. Early next year, the House and Senate will introduce federal legislation to support embryonic stem cell research that President Bush vetoed last year; it is expected to pass once again. Hopefully, President Bush will seize this second chance to fulfill the will of the American people and join the states in supporting the promise of embryonic stem cell research.

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