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California Stem Cell Debate Goes Back To Court

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SAN FRANCISCO (Dow Jones) — The fight over control of $3 billion worth of funding for stem cell research in California goes back to court this week, as one side in the legal battle challenges an earlier court ruling on the constitutionality of the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act.

The California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act, or Prop. 71, was approved by voters in 2004 and created a state-controlled agency to oversee the issuance of $3 billion in bonds. Those bonds translate into about $300 million a year in grants over 10 years for stem cell research at California universities and research institutions.

The plaintiffs — People’s Advocate, National Tax Limitation Foundation and the California Family Bioethics Council — are appealing a ruling by an Alameda County Superior Court judge last April that Prop. 71 is constitutional and that the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the agency created to manage the funding, is under state control.

The plaintiffs argue that Prop. 71 was unconstitutional and that the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee which governs CIRM is not under the exclusive management of the state because Prop. 71 didn’t contain sufficient controls related to the spending of the bond money.

“The case that we’re going to argue … is on the morality of having the $3 billion that’s been allocated, or funded, with bonds — the morality of spending and dispersing those funds,” Life Legal Defense attorney Terry Thompson said in an interview.Watch the interview.

The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco.

If the superior court decision is upheld, the plaintiffs could seek a review by the state’s Supreme Court, which then could take up to two months to decide whether to or not to take the case.

Both sides say they expect the case to end up in California Supreme Court.

In the meantime, CIRM has found ways around the litigation to raise funds. California’s independent finance committee authorized CIRM to sell up to $200 million in bond anticipation notes for interim funding, Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has directed the state to provide a $150 million loan, and various charitable contributions have been made to the agency as well.

“Stem cell research in California is on the move,” ICOC Chairman Robert Klein said in an interview. “By March we’ll have $130 million out, in researchers’ hands.”Watch the interview.

Supporters of stem cell research believe it will eventually provide treatments and even cures for some of the most devastating afflictions, such as spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, Lou Gehrig’s disease and juvenile diabetes.

California state law allows for the experimentation on human embryos for therapeutic purposes, including embryonic cloning.

The Life Legal Defense Foundation, which represents two of the plaintiffs, supports stem cell research using adult and umbilical cord stem cells; it does not support embryonic stem cell research.

President Bush in 2001 limited federal funding to embryonic stem-cell lines already in existence at the time. Legislation passed by House Democrats in January would expand federal funding to include research on stem cells derived from embryos left over from the in-vitro fertilization process that would otherwise be discarded, but the bill is expected to be vetoed if it makes its way to the President.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

By Carolyn Pritchard

Copyright (c) 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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