Stem cell research hits snag in Texas – Senate set to consider excluding funds for embryo research

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Texas researchers who thought President Barack Obama’s executive order lifting the restrictions on embryonic stem cell research would finally free them to ramp up work with the cutting-edge science are facing a new obstacle: the state Legislature.
Eighteen of the state’s leading scientists signed a letter sent to the Legislature Monday objecting to a provision inserted in the Senate budget bill last week that would ban state funding from supporting research involving the destruction of human embryos.

“Such an amendment would be detrimental to Texas,” said the statement. “A ban would halt ongoing research projects and negatively impact the ability of Texas academic health institutions, both public and private, to competitively recruit and retain world-class scientists, professors and students in the biological sciences.”
The bill, which passed the Senate Finance Committee 6-5 with little discussion, is scheduled to come before the full Senate floor Wednesday. The House is working on its own budget bill.

The ban is considered to have a chance to prevail because it’s contained in a larger bill moving forward. Opponents said the policy should be fully debated in stand-alone legislation.
Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, the provision’s author, accused critics of exaggerating the provision’s impact, saying it makes “explicit what was already the implicit state policy.”

“In absence of clear state policy, the rider just says we’re not going to use state funds to destroy human embryos,” said Ogden. “Many Texans have moral concerns about this type of experimentation on human life.”
Stand-alone bills in previous legislative sessions that would have prohibited embryonic stem cell research and that would have allotted special funding for such research failed to pass. Meanwhile, Baylor College of Medicine and University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston have worked with National Institutes of Health-approved stem cells lines for years.

Future of medicine

Stem cell research is considered by many researchers to be the future of medicine, producing cures for a host of ailments by replacing diseased tissue with newly grown tissue. It involves adult stem cells, whose potential to morph into other cell and tissue types is just now being tapped; and embryonic stem cells, the gold standard for such transformative capability.
Because embryos must be killed to obtain the stem cell, embryonic stem cell research is controversial. President George W. Bush took an ethical stand against it, limiting federally funded research to less than two dozen cell lines already in existence. Obama lifted those restrictions earlier this month.

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