New Jersey Support for Stem Cell Research Highlights Federal Inaction

Last Friday, the New Jersey State Senate passed legislation to spend $250 million to build three new stem cell research centers. While this legislation, which was championed by Senate president Richard Codey, still needs to pass the State Assembly, this important step reaffirms New Jersey’s commitment to this cutting edge, lifesaving research.

New Jersey is not the only state to fill the research void created by federal inaction. California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland and Wisconsin have all dedicated funds to embryonic stem cell research, and New York gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer has pledged $1 billion to the research if he is elected. Still, these states’ efforts cannot replace federal funding.

As of May 2006, states have earmarked $52.1 million for all types of stem cell research, of which $17.1 million has been spent, while the federal government has spent $280 million. The majority of this federal money has been spent on adult stem cell research; funding for embryonic stem cell research has gone to a limited number of federally eligible lines that are contaminated by mouse feeder cells. While scientists can now create stem cell lines using no animal products, the Bush administration’s ban on funding for research using new stem cell lines means scientists receiving federal funding must use the contaminated lines.

Meanwhile, over 400,000 excess embryos that could be used to create new, uncontaminated stem cell lines are stored in in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics. Last year, the House of Representatives passed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act to allow federal funding for donated excess embryos with broad, bipartisan support. However, despite promises from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist for a speedy vote on the legislation (amid public opinion polls showing that close to 70% of Americans support the research), the bill has languished in the Senate.

Federal funding will not only provide the necessary resources for American scientists to develop cures but will also provide more stringent regulation. Currently, stem cell research is proceeding without any uniform regulation in the states or the private sector. While the National Academies has provided excellent research guidelines — guidelines that have been endorsed by a number of professional organizations, research universities and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine — the standards are voluntary.

It is past time for the federal government to begin adequately funding and regulating embryonic stem cell research to ensure the research advances effectively and ethically.

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