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Scientists Crowd Salk for Stem Cell Update

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    Scientists Crowd Salk for Stem Cell Update

    Scientists Crowd Salk for Stem Cell Update

    Tuesday, 14 January 2003

    SAN DIEGO - Approximately 150 researchers, scientists, patient advocates and healthcare providers gathered for an informational conference at the Salk Institute Tuesday that was aimed at providing an update of stem cell research in light of recent news events.

    While federal policy has restricted embryonic stem cell research to a group of existing cell lines, California legislators have signed in a bill supporting therapeutic stem cell research in the state. The California research bill was helpful in convincing two major research groups at Harvard to move to the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, according to Professor Stuart A. Lipton, the Institute's director of neuroscience. These research groups have helped make San Diego a hotspot for stem cell studies, Lipton said.

    "It was much easier to recruit people to California after that," Lipton said.
    A major current worry for stem cell researchers is the Brownback Bill, a proposed federal law currently in the Senate that would supercede state legislation and criminalize the use of any embryonic stem cells or therapies derived from them. Many researchers view embryonic stem cells as more promising than stem cells taken from adults or from fetal blood cords, two potential stem cell sources that are less politically charged than embryonic cells, which are often tied to the abortion issue.

    "Within a year of that, we would be dead in the water," said UCSD's Dr. Larry Goldstein, who is a professor at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

    State Senator Deborah Ortiz, a Democrat who represents District 6 in Sacramento
    spoke at the event, which was sponsored by the California Healthcare Institute.

    Many of the same speakers were at a similar event put on in May to rally support for stem cell research before California's pro-research bill was signed. Ortiz authored the bill.

    "It's a victory for California, but at the same time I'm coming back at a time when Congress looks even more problematic that it did last year, with the preemption issue potentially looming over California," Ortiz said in an interview with the T Sector. "The success was great, but it could be fleeting."

    Ortis said of the approximately 70 lines President Bush proposed to save for research purposes have withered to seven because of problems, meaning new sources of cells must be allowed for the research to continue.

    Dr. Lipton pointed out that 80 to 90 percent of cells taken from females for in vitro fertilization are currently discarded and could be a source for more lines, but are currently not allowed under Bush's law.

    Other panel members included Dr. Fred Gage from the Laboratory of Genetics at Salk and Dr. David Gollaher, president and CEO of the California Healthcare Institute.

    Part of the problem is that banning technology used for human cloning also effectively bans the technology needed for therapeutic cloning, which has multiple uses.

    "The cynic in me notes that the people who worry about the dual uses of cloning are not worried about the dual use of firearms," said Gollaher.

    I hope that the last comment about the dual use of firearms does not get played up in the press. Wise.