A campaign has begun in the US state of California to include a bill in the November ballot to facilitate funding for embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research by establishing a three billion dollar bond. The bill is seen as a 'counter' to the stem cell policies of President George W Bush and the campaign group - made up of patient advocate groups and scientific researchers - want the bond to provide 295 million dollars of state funding per year to Californian universities, research institutes and companies involved in research into ES cells. It also wants to allocate funding for cloning projects to create stem cells for regenerative therapies, but specifies that cloning for reproductive purposes is not to be allowed.
The group, which calls itself 'Californians for Stem Cell Research and Cures', stipulates that the funds should only be available to those researchers who use ES cells derived from human embryos that are less than two weeks old. It also proposes that a 29-member panel be established, appointed by state governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, chancellors of the University of California and other officials, to distribute the funds in the form of grants. The group needs to raise 20 million dollars to promote their proposal and says that it has so far raised 2.5 million of these. It also needs to get supporting signatures of 600,000 Californian voters by 16 April this year in order to be able to qualify for the November ballot. If it does and, in November, the proposal is approved, California will be the first US state to fund ES cell research.
On 9 August 2001, President Bush announced that ES cell research supported by federal funds could only take place on stem cell lines that were already in existence at that time. Research that would cause the destruction of any further embryos for research would not be permitted. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) identified 78 existing ES cell lines at the time, of which 12 are available to scientists. But US researchers have since complained that the ES cell lines available for them are not as good as later-produced lines, which were created using newer techniques, in particular without the use of mouse 'feeder' cells.
In September 2002, in what was seen as a direct challenge to the policy of the Bush administration, the state government of California approved legislation allowing ES cell work to take place in the state, and this was supported by the then state governor, Gray Davis. In December 2002, three more US states announced plans to consider measures to permit ES cell research and therapeutic cloning, despite the fact that the federal government still had not managed to complete its debates or vote on the issue. Similar bills were later introduced in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Massachusetts, with New Jersey becoming the second state assembly to legislate specifically for the promotion of ES cell research in January this year.