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State urged to help fund stem cell research Local institutions join in lobbying legislators

States are forging ahead, without the federal government, to fund and expand stem cell research.

New Jersey was the first to get on board. California voted to spend billions. Connecticut and Illinois are poised to dole out millions more.

Now, lobbyists will head to Albany Monday to press the state's lawmakers to fund cutting-edge, but controversial, embryonic stem cell research.

Supporters say using these building-block cells from human embryos to grow tissue and organ cells has the potential to treat such diseases as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

"I think it's important for us to see the State of New York supporting biomedical research in general," said Dr. David C. Hohn, president of Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

He and others say they would like the state to fund stem cell research, with oversight by a committee of scientists. He also says he believes the research should be funded under the broader umbrella of biomedical research.

"I think some of our eggs need to be in that [stem cell] basket, but not all of them," Hohn said. "Others will do it if we won't."

The time has come to determine exactly how these stem cells can, or cannot, help, Holm said.

Failure to conduct stem cell research, he said, allows the field to take on the aura of a panacea for all diseases because of lack of proof to the contrary,

The federal government has restricted funding on embryonic stem cell research, leaving states to fill the void for scientists and the biomedical industry.

Advocates -- the University at Buffalo, Roswell Park and 15 other research and medical institutions across the state -- called on lawmakers last week to act quickly before New York falls behind in this competitive environment.

The institutions collaborated on a study outlining the scientific benefits, and economic payoffs, of investing state money into this new field of medicine.

"We believe that if New York fails to act, we risk losing our place as one of the leading, if not the leading location for biomedical research," the study concludes. "Already other states are trying to use the resources they are devoting to stem cell research to lure some of New York's top scientists, and the jobs and economic potential that accompany their research, away."

The state's top leaders have pitched different proposals, but where they go is still uncertain.

Gov. George E. Pataki and Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, R-Brunswick, proposed $200 million to expand biomedical studies, which could include some type of stem cell research. The Assembly recently passed legislation, introduced by Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, supporting $300 million in state money for stem cell research.

Other states already have stepped up.

California, most notably, passed a ballot initiative to establish a 10-year, $3 billion stem cell research fund for its universities and research institutions, the study points out.

New Jersey has proposed a $400 million package to build an institute and offer grants. The study mentions Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts and Wisconsin among those states where funding has been approved or efforts are brewing.

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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