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State Competition Heats Up For Stem-Cell Scientists

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Lazarus Member Level  Friday, 02/08/08 04:35:22 PM
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State Competition Heats Up For Stem-Cell Scientists

By Christine Vestal

Stateline.org Staff Writer
01/28/08

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Seven states — including Connecticut — are leading the world in political and financial support for embryonic stem-cell research.

Their goal: Attract the best stem-cell scientists from around the globe and become a hub for a multi-billion-dollar bioscience industry. So far, their plan appears to be working.

In the past two years, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin have awarded some $230 million in grants — more than three times as much as the federal government spent on embryonic stem-cell studies in that time — and there has been no shortage of scientists seeking the money.

Three more states — Iowa, Massachusetts and Missouri — have affirmed the legality of the research in hopes of keeping or encouraging scientists to work within their borders.

But six others — Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, North Dakota and South Dakota — now ban studies that result in the destruction of human embryos, and Arizona bars state funding for embryonic studies. These states have positions closer to those of Japan and most European countries.

Except in these states, work on embryonic stem cells is free to go on in the United States at places such as universities and private, nonprofit and corporate laboratories — as long as no federal money is involved. But states that want to be players in the nascent stem-cell arena are finding they must ante up with state financing and a science- friendly environment.

In 2005, Connecticut allotted $100 million and Illinois $10 million, adding another $5 million in 2006.

Maryland approved $15 million in 2006 and $23 million more in 2007, and New York invested $650 million in 2007.

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D) created a $750 million building fund to construct a stem-cell research laboratory on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

New Jersey in 2006 appropriated an additional $15 million in grant money, $9.5 million for administrative costs and $270 million to build five new research facilities.

While they didn’t pony up dollars, Missouri in 2006 and Iowa last year declared their state open for stem-cell business with measures legalizing work on embryos.

Massachusetts lawmakers in 2005 overrode a veto by then-Gov. Mitt Romney to ensure the legality of the research.

Among states seeding the fledgling science, California is the bellwether with a $3 billion fund of taxpayer dollars being spent to build worldclass research labs and lure leading stem-cell scientists to the sunny West Coast.

When all seven states’ investments are totaled, the commitment comes to nearly $5 billion over the next 10 years. Massachusetts could add another $1 billion.

“States that have chosen to fund the research are in an ideal position,” said Bernard Siegel, founder of the Genetics Policy Institute, a nonprofit stem-cell advocacy group.

“Scientists are energized by the new developments, and many of the best and brightest already are flocking to California and other states with generous grants and friendly science policies,” Siegel said.

Last year, 39 states considered more than 100 bills for and against the research, but only three laws were enacted, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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