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Help N.Y. compete

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And New York and the Rochester region to this point aren’t in the game. The state Legislature should change that before it adjourns.

At stake is $300 million in state funds that would flow to medical research institutions, including the University of Rochester Medical Center, to facilitate the study of therapies using embryonic stem cells. The cells would be extracted from a fraction of the thousands of embryos discarded each year by in vitro fertility clinics. The state Assembly supports funding such research. Gov. Pataki has in the past backed the idea. But the Senate majority is divided.

Waiting isn’t an option. Not if New York expects to keep up with other states proposing public funds for this type of research, led by California, whose voters last year approved spending $3 billion.

That’s a huge investment that not only allowed California to bypass the federal ban on funding new embryonic lines but ratcheted up the state-to-state competition for resources and star researchers. New Jersey is on board, and Connecticut and Massachusetts are on track to create funds.

New York should not be left behind, as it was in the genome-mapping project. UR has the researchers, the labs and access to the embryos which, if not given to research or couples trying to conceive, will be disposed of. Which is preferable: to have these cells discarded or put to use unraveling the mystery of now-incurable illnesses or conditions?

Some argue that adult stem cells have a strong record in medical research. They do.

But embryonic cells are, in a sense, clearer, purer pathways to solutions for spinal-cord injury victims, leukemia patients and patients with other illnesses.

UR would get a piece of the $300 million state fund if it is approved, though there would be many prestigious institutions vying for shares.

But as important as the money is the university’s ability to hang on to researchers already being drawn to states where this research is allowed. If researchers leave, UR’s ability to gain federal and state support for other kinds of research is damaged.

The Senate should come around on this issue before adjournment.

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