The stem-cell funding ban is a step backwards for Texas

Published: April 6, 2009  |  Source: caller.com
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Why would Texas hamper its own universities, discouraging them from seeking cures for age-old diseases? Why would state leaders cut the state off from millions of dollars in research funding in the search for those cures? Why would Texas want to brand itself as a state where science and research are held in little regard? The answer, of course, is that it shouldn’t. But that is where Texas is heading if a provision in the Senate’s version of the state budget makes it into law.

The provision, inserted into the proposed budget by Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, would prohibit state funding of research on stem-cell embryos. The provision is a back-door method of legislating on an issue that deserves a vote on its own. But opponents of stem-cell research know that such legislation has been defeated before. Now, unless the provision is removed from the budget in conference committee, the prohibition will go into law. This would be a loss for medical research and for Texas’ pursuit of being a leader in the biotech industry.

Research into stem cells is the front line of medical discovery. The cells’ ability to transform themselves into other kinds of cells offers the potential to cure human diseases and regenerate damaged human cells. The potential is that stem cells could lead to treatment for Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, spinal cord injury, among other ailments and injuries. Those kinds of treatments may be years and millions and even billions of government and private dollars away. State funding is a crucial part of that funding, said an open letter to legislators from scientists working on such projects at Texas universities.

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, the University of Texas Health System and two Nobel laureates said in the letter that the ban would halt ongoing research at the state’s public and private universities and hamper the recruitment of top scientists and researchers. Legislation that has such enormous impact should not become law without even its own public hearing, without scrutiny from the public, and all the transparency that comes from following the usual path of stand-alone legislation.

Embryonic stem-cell research is controversial because it inevitably involves the destruction of some cells. Yet these fertility clinic embryos are routinely discarded. Stopping funding, however, does not deal with ethical issues because stripping public funding only drives such research overseas where such moral issues may not be grappled with. That’s why President Obama lifted the ban imposed by President Bush on most embryonic stem-cell research. Research into both adult and embryonic stem cells must be pursued for the best chance of break-through discoveries. A budget bill is no place to hide a ban that would label Texas as a place where scientific research is not welcome. The ban ought to be stripped out of any budget legislation. It’s up to the House budget writers as they do their own version to leave out the ban and then have the ban left on the floor of the conference committee.