May 29, 2024


 A fourth American state has voted help to fund embryonic stem cell research. The Maryland legislature has passed a bill authorising US$15 million in grants to universities in the state and private- sector researchers. Although most members of his party voted against the measure, Republican Governor Robert L. Erhlich Jr strongly supported it. Like other politicians around the world, he predicts that embryo research will further his state’s national and international reputation and will prevent a brain drain of "our best and brightest". California, New Jersey and Connecticut also support embryo research.

The New York Times pointed out in an editorial that the regulation of stem cell research has been left to the states because of Federal paralysis. As a result, the US stem cell scene is a patchwork of conflicting laws. On the more conservative side of the stem cell divide, South Dakota has banned all research on embryonic stem cells and other states have banned therapeutic cloning. This is "an absurd way to conduct research that may have extraordinary importance if it pans out," says the Times.

Stem cell research could become a hot political issue in November’s congressional elections, just as it was in John Kerry’s failed tilt at the White House. The Democrats plan to push the issue hard to appeal to women and to demonstrate that they stand for progress and the Republicans for the status quo. Their opponents are sceptical. "House races tend to be much more about pocketbook issues," Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, says. "I can guarantee you that there will not be a competitive House race in the country where stem cells are discussed" in campaign ads.

Depending upon how the numbers are spun, the US is either lagging badly behind in stem cell research because of Federal restrictions, or it is a world leader. A survey of current literature in the German science magazine Bild der Wissenschaft shows that Israeli scientists have the highest per capita publishing rate in the world, and Germany’s have the lowest. However, it turns out that US-based scientists have published 42% of all stem cell research articles (both adult and embryonic) between 2000 and 2005, with Germany second, at 10%. The UK, with probably the world’s most liberal stem cell research laws, publishes less by both criteria.