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Political battle over embryonic stem cells heats up

WASHINGTON (BP)–A leading financial backer of California’s embryonic stem cell initiative has been elected chairman of the committee that will oversee the new agency performing research that destroys embryos.

Meanwhile, other states continue to mount campaigns to prevent the country’s most populous state from monopolizing embryonic stem cell research.

All the while, non-embryonic stem cell research — which does not harm donors — continues to produce stunning results in treating human beings, unlike experimentation using embryos.

The California Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, which will supervise research grants, unanimously approved Robert Klein as its chairman Dec. 17, according to The New York Times. Klein, 59, a Palo Alto real estate developer, helped write and finance Proposition 71, which was approved in November by California’s voters. Klein is hopeful stem cells will provide a cure for his son, who has diabetes, according to The Sacramento Bee.

Proposition 71 established the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and authorized the sale of $300 million in bonds each year for a decade to fund the research. It has been estimated Californians will have to pay back $6 billion for 30 years for the bonds. The initiative not only supports embryonic stem cell research but permits the cloning of human embryos for research purposes, which also destroys the tiny human beings. That specific type of cloning is also referred to as “therapeutic cloning.”

The committee elected as vice chairman Edward Penhoet, a founder of the biotechnology firm Chiron Corp. The panel tabled all other business in its first meeting after a complaint that the lack of notice and background material violated California’s open meeting law, The Times reported.

Critics have pointed to some panel members’ connections with biotech and pharmaceutical firms. There will be a “web of conflicts,” said Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, according to The Times.

New Jersey and Wisconsin already have plans in place to support embryonic stem cell research, and efforts are underway in Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York to gain or hold onto researchers in the field, USA Today reported. In Texas, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican, has encouraged Republican Gov. Rick Perry to find a way to prevent biomedical researchers from fleeing to California, according to the report.

Legislation to prohibit embryonic stem cell research will be promoted next year in legislatures in Kansas, Louisiana and Missouri, USA Today reported.

While states battle over the issue, the Bush administration maintains its ban on federal funding of stem cell research that destroys embryos. President Bush instituted the policy in 2001 and has withstood harsh criticism to keep the ban in place.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into other cells and tissues, building hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions. In addition to being extracted from embryos, the cells may be found in such non-embryonic sources as bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, fat and placentas.

Supporters of embryonic stem cell research claim their line of study has the most potential for creating cures. However, the multi-billion-dollar biotechnology industry has invested many times more in adult stem cell research. Also, embryonic stem cell research has experienced multiple failures, including the worsening of Parkinson’s symptoms in one human test group and a tendency to produce tumors in laboratory animals.

Research on stem cells from non-embryonic sources, however, has resulted in more than 40 treatments.

In a recent development, stem cells from fat were used apparently for the first time to grow bone in a human being. German surgeons used the non-embryonic stem cells to help correct skull damage in a 7-year-old girl, the Associated Press reported. Pieces of the girl’s bone were mixed with stem cells to produce additional bone in the surgery that was performed in 2003, Hans-Peter Howaldt told AP.

Non-embryonic stem cells also have been used to produce therapies for such ailments as spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease.

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