As other states are becoming more aggressive in promoting stem cell research, Texas is falling behind, and if something isn't done to change that, the state will lose both scientists and the support services they generate. So says a new report, which will be released tomorrow.
The economic impact study, authored by Bud Weinstein, a professor of applied economics at the University of North Texas, points out that while states such as California have passed legislation to fund stem cell research (to the tune of $300 million a year for 10 years), Texas has gone the other way, attempting to pass laws that would essentially criminalize stem cell research. So far, the state legislature hasn't passed any laws on stem cell research, meaning there are no regulations to govern it. Tomorrow, the House State Affairs Committee is expected to consider multiple bills on the subject, a number of which are designed to promote research involving both embryonic and adult stem cells. Stem cell research could result in treatments, even cures, for serious medical conditions such as Parkinson's disease, juvenile diabetes and spinal cord injuries.
Joe Brown, vice president of Texans for Advancement of Medical Research, which paid for the study, says Texans will pay a price if the state turns its back on stem cell research for ethical reasons. "The problem is," he says, "the message we're sending to our scientific community is Texans are not interested in this and not friendly to it."
Brown, whose wife suffers from Parkinson's, says the state has already lost key scientists, most notably a researcher from Baylor who left for Colorado to pursue studying stem cells.
Brown believes that stem cells are the future of medicine. Where pills and surgery are now the answer, in the future doctors will turn more and more to regenerative medicine. Already, Brown says, doctors can regenerate heart and brain cells. And while so far those cells are contained to petri dishes, it won't be long before they are ready for use in actual treatments, meaning a new heart could be created, or the effects of Parkinson's reversed.
When this happens -- a shift toward regenerative medicine, as Brown calls it -- Texas will be left behind. Scientists will leave, doctors will follow, hospitals will become smaller. Texas Medical Center in Houston, for example, now one of the largest employers in the state, will shrink in size, Brown says: "The real message here is Texas is going to pay the price if we don't do something."
Currently, the debate both locally and nationally is not over stem cell research -- most everyone agrees that is good idea -- but over embryonic stem cell research. Brown says there is much confusion over exactly what that is, and the fierce debate concerning it has prevented the state from passing any sorts of laws relating to stem cell research.
He hopes that the bills the state is currently considering will include ethical guidelines, because "right now, anybody could do anything, including reproductive cloning." The study, which was commissioned by the Alliance for Medical Research, will be presented tomorrow at the Capitol. A press briefing will follow. --Jesse Hyde
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