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Ehrlich budgets $20 million for embryonic stem cell research

January 11, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Hours after two Democratic legislators asked Gov. Robert Ehrlich for $25 million in state funds for embryonic stem cell research in his fiscal year 2007 budget, Ehrlich announced he will include $20 million in next year's budget for the research.

Paul Schurick, Ehrlich's communications director, said there will be no restrictions on how the money can be spent. The governor would leave it to the Maryland Technology Development Corp., part of the state's economic development agency, to develop protocols for determining what research would be funded, including research on embryonic and adult stem cells.

"It was an easy decision" for the governor, Schurick said.

"His decision is consistent with his position as long as he's been in public office," he said. "The governor has never been troubled by the ethical challenges of stem cell research."

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Earlier Tuesday, Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, and Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, D-Baltimore City, announced at a news conference that they wanted to resurrect legislation that died in the Senate last year.

"We've seen the polls, we know that the public wants it," Hollinger said.

"Governor, show us the money," Rosenberg added. "We need to fund this research."

After Ehrlich's announcement, Rosenberg said he still thinks legislation to be introduced by him and Hollinger is needed because it establishes limits on how the money can be used, including allowing embryonic research only on embryos created for in-vitro fertilization purposes that would otherwise be destroyed because they no longer are needed.

Former Gov. Harry R. Hughes, who serves as chairman of Maryland Families for Stem Cell Research, appeared with Hollinger and Rosenberg. He noted that with the state's billion-dollar surplus, the $25 million the bill asks for "isn't a very big part of that."

Hughes got involved with the issue because his wife suffers from Parkinson's disease and his grandson was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 7. Hughes said embryonic stem cell research could help provide treatment for such diseases.

"It's not a partisan issue - the vast majority of Marylanders all favor this issue," Hughes said.

Two other former governors, William Donald Schaefer and Marvin Mandel, serve as honorary chairmen for Maryland Families for Stem Cell Research.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch endorsed the bill, saying the United States "should be in the forefront of embryonic stem cell research," and that Maryland should be a leader in that research because of research centers such as The Johns Hopkins Hospital, which he noted already has lost a researcher because of funding.

One researcher who remains at Johns Hopkins said embryonic stem cell research is needed for treatment of neurological disorders - such as paralysis - that adult stem cells "don't have the potential to treat all diseases."

Douglas Kerr said researchers have been able to get laboratory rats to walk again after paralysis.

"Our goal is to get people to walk again," he said. "We now understand the biology of how to do this."

Kerr said researchers are on the "brink" of a biological revolution.

"The biological reality that we can change it and not have the ability to change it is tragic indeed," he said.

Opponents of embryonic stem cell research have questioned the ethics of creating or using human embryos for research. Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, voted against last year's bill - as did most of the Washington County Delegation to the General Assembly - and plans to vote against the Hollinger-Rosenberg proposal this year. But he said Tuesday that he anticipates other stem cell research bills to be offered this year, including what he called a "noncontroversial" bill to harvest stem cells from umbilical cords.

Donoghue sits on the House Health and Government Operations Committee.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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