The House of Delegates of the US state of Maryland has approved a bill that could bring as much as $15 million of state funding per year for stem cell research, making it the fourth US state to authorise the spending of public money on such research. The money will be able to be spent on projects involving either adult or embryonic stem cells (ES cells) and would establish guidelines for the research as well as a 15-member oversight committee. The stem cell oversight committee, which would consist of a panel of scientists, must also have two experts in either bioethics or religion, appointed by the state's Governor. The panel will review research proposals and award grants out of the $15 million budget.
The bill - which was passed by 90 votes to 48 - was previously passed by the state Senate last month and it has support from Robert Erlich, Maryland's Governor, who is expected to sign it into law. 'It furthers our reputation nationally and internationally', he said, 'adding that it also 'helps us retain our best and brightest here'. However, the bill is a modified version of a bill passed earlier in the year by the House of Delegates (HB1), which would have authorised $25 million per year for stem cell work. HB1 was introduced to the house in January by Busch as the Maryland Stem Cell Research Act of 2006 - the first bill of the new legislative session. The bill would have authorise funds for five years for research using human ES cells, as well as adult stem cells. The Senate version of the bill narrowly escaped an attempted filibuster - the turning point in the debate was reported to be the removal of a provision that would have given priority to projects using ES cells. Instead, the bill was passed with a proposal to leave funding decisions up to subsequent Governors.
Dr John Gearhart, a leading stem cell researcher from Maryland's Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said that although other states have said they will spend more public money on stem cell research, $15 million in the first year is 'a good start'. Federal money is not available for ES cell research projects using cells from embryos created after 9 August 2001, when President Bush issued a mandate authorising research on existing ES cell lines. California was the first state to break from the federal restrictions, followed by New Jersey and Connecticut. Other states are also reported to be considering similar proposals.