No funds for embryonic stem cells

Published April 11, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Two state legislative committees voted Tuesday to focus limited dollars on research using stem cells culled from adults and umbilical cords, rather than human embryos.

The House and Senate panels both unanimously approved bills that set aside money for non-embryonic stem cell research - although how much money would be put into the grant program isn't clear yet.

With the votes, the House Health Care Committee and the Senate Health Policy Committee rejected a competing proposal to also allow state money to fund embryonic stem cell research.

Both panels heard testimony from researchers who said that while embryonic stem research holds promise, adult stem cells and umbilical cord blood cells are widely being used to treat patients now.

"This bill funds scientific results, not promise," said Rep. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, sponsor of the House measure (HB 1065), noting that doctors around the world are treating about 70 diseases with adult stem cells and there are thousands of clinical trials on people under way.

Both panels also heard from a Texas family for whom stem cells from umbilical cord blood have been a lifesaver. Seven-year-old Joseph Davis Jr., from suburban Dallas, and his father told lawmakers how banked cord blood from his 5-year-old brother was used to treat Joseph's sickle cell anemia.

"Now I'm cured because my younger brother saved my life with his cord blood, and my family's happy about it," Joseph told the committees.

While the vote was unanimous in both committees, several House Democrats expressed dismay that the legislation precludes putting state money into embryonic stem cell research.

"This is not pie in the sky; this is research," said Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Weston. "Why are we eliminating the most promising type of research?"

Even if the bill passes, legislators still will have to fight for dollars in a tight budget year.

Whatever the state spends this year will depend on how much budget writers have available.