Stem-cell study may get £1.6bn

October 22, 2004

As Californians prepare to vote in a state referendum on the creation of a $3 billion (£1.6 billion) state bond initiative to fund stem-cell research, Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology Inc has announced it will open a laboratory in the state.

The firm, which was the first to clone a human embryo, said it would build a facility in California because of the state's support for the controversial research.

If the stem-cell plan, known as Proposition 71, is supported on November 2, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine will be launched to manage the initiative, including the distribution of funds to universities, medical schools and research facilities.

The institution would give priority funding to candidates unlikely to receive limited federal money but would not fund research on human reproductive cloning. Up to 10 per cent of available funds could be used to develop research facilities for non-profit entities within the first five years of the implementation of the measure.

Proposition 71 has the support of actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease (which may be helped by stem-cell therapies). It would expand embryonic stem-cell research in California beyond the limited cell lines that can be studied with federal funding under the 2001 policy of President George W. Bush.

Mr Bush allowed individual states to frame their own stem-cell policies, contrasting with the ongoing wrangles in Brussels over forging a common European Union position.

Actor Christopher Reeve, who died last week, was also a high- profile advocate of stem-cell research. He campaigned for a relaxation of the ban imposed on federal funding for research based on embryonic stem cells created after 2001.

John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, is exploiting Mr Bush's ambiguities over issues such as stem-cell research, and there are signs that this is having an impact on voters who feel that the President is overinfluenced by right-wing ideologues and extreme religious interests.

Mr Kerry would commit $100 million (£55.5 million) to a programme based on stem cells that were created in vitro, not implanted, and would otherwise be discarded.

Opinion polls suggest that majorities in both parties and among independents would support stem-cell research involving human embryos.

A road tour by more than a dozen scientists, including five Nobel prizewinners, will visit ten of the most closely contested states to promote Mr Kerry's bid for the White House.

david.jobbins@thes.co.uk

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