A Case for Funding of Stem Cell Research in New Jersey

In November of 2004, California passed Proposition 71 which will fund $300 million per year of stem cell research for the next ten years in that state. In January 2005, the governor of New Jersey announced his commitment to building a $150 million Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey and a referendum in the November ballot to allow the citizens of New Jersey to vote on a $230 million bond issue to support stem cell research in the state over 10 years. Opponents are criticizing state funding of stem cell research by emphasizing conflict-of-interest issues, budgetary deficits that the states are facing, and ethical issues of egg donation programs. In New Jersey, facing a $4 billion deficit, significant cuts of services, and an increase in property taxes, some legislators have asked whether the state can afford to fund stem cell research.

The federal government has dropped the ball on stem cell research funding. In 2004, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded less than $230 million on all human stem cell research with less than $25 million of that amount spent on embryonic stem cell research. This is a paltry investment, less than 1% of the $28 billion NIH budget for an area of research that most scientists believe is one of the most important therapeutic approach for a myriad of diseases and conditions. Overseas investment in stem cell research has overshadowed U.S. investment. Singapore alone, for example, has spent over a billion dollars in the past two years on stem cell research. China, Korea, Japan, England, Sweden, Australia, and other countries are each spending hundreds of millions on stem cell research. The U.S. is rapidly losing its leadership role in this important area of biomedical research.

In the coming five years, there will undoubtedly be clinical trials (whether here in the United States or overseas) showing that stem-cell based therapies prevent death or suffering for one more more currently untreatable condition. When this happens, we will face a moral and societal crisis. We currently don't have a sufficient supply of cells. For example, the total available world supply of umbilical cord blood is about 200,000 units. If a clinical trial were to show that umbilical cord stem cells improved recovery in brain or spinal cord injury, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune diseases, or any of a myriad of conditions, there would not be enough cells to treat even a tiny fraction of the people in the U.S., much less the world. What should we do? Run a lottery or let only the wealthiest and best connected people have access to the therapy?

In New Jersey, a bill will be introduced in May 2005 for a "referendum", allowing the citizens of New Jersey to vote in November 2005 on a $230 million bond to support stem cell research. New Jersey is a crucial state in which to fund stem cell research. The state has the largest concentration of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies of any state. Stem cell research in New Jersey will have a far-reaching effect on the development of a new therapeutic industry of cell-based therapies. What happens in New Jersey will have far-reaching effects on the rest of the world. There are several additional reasons why the referendum should be passed:

• Democracy. We should allow the people of the state to choose to whether or not they want to fund stem cell research. A vote against the referendum is a vote against stem cell research. A vote for the referendum is a vote for democracy. Let the people decide.
• Economy. The investment will yield significant economic gains for New Jersey. It is likely to prevent loss of hundreds of New Jersey stem cell scientists to other states and attract many scientists to the state. In the short-term, the bond issue will save the state billions of dollars. In the long-term, the investment will add billions to the New Jersey economy. It is one of the best investments that the state can make.
• Science. We must allow science to go forward. The bond will support research on all kinds of stem cells: embryonic, fetal, neonatal, and adult. We don't currently know enough to predict which type of stem cell will be best. We should not close the door on any source of stem cells now. We must develop technology to grow stem cells without eggs or embryos to treat millions of people.
• Humanity. Stem cell research will save and improve the lives of millions of people. In 2004, the federal government funded less than $230 million of all human stem cell research and less than $25 million of human embryonic stem cell research. Over a quarter of the U. S. population suffer from significant disabilities and diseases that would benefit from stem cell therapies. No stem cell source is sufficient to treat even a small fraction of people.
• Nation. Many countries have invested more into stem cell research than the United States. China, Australia, England, Sweden, Korea, and other countries have invested billions into stem cell research. Singapore alone spent over a billion dollars on stem cell research in the past two years. The White House has proposed 3% cut of the 2005-2006 NIH budget. The Federal government does not seem willing to invest more into stem cell research in the near future.

In summary, it is critical for state funding of stem cell research to continue, especially in New Jersey. The federal government has dropped the ball, not only for embryonic but for umbilical cord blood and adult stem cells research. The situation does not look like it is going to reverse any time soon, given the proposed cuts of the NIH budgets for the coming fiscal year. There are strong democratic, economic, scientific, humanitarian, and national reasons for the states to fund stem cell research as soon as possible.

Wise.

[This message was edited by Wise Young on 04-18-05 at 10:02 PM.]