Washington Editor

In a move to draw more medical research dollars into his state, New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey signed legislation legalizing stem cell research.

New Jersey's "Stem Cell Research" bill is the second of its kind in the U.S., the first one signed more than a year ago by former California Gov. Gray Davis. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 17, 2002.)

The state laws allow stem cell research from any source, including human embryonic stem cells. Both laws require such research to be reviewed by institutional review boards, and prohibit the sale of embryos.

When asked whether other states are expected to jump on the bandwagon, Michael Werner, chief of policy at the Washington-based Biotechnology Industry Organization, told BioWorld Today he believes stem cell research and cloning issues will become hotly debated topics on the state level, "and we are optimistic that other states will follow N.J.'s lead. This is going to become an economic development issue for a lot of states."

While federal law does not prohibit human embryonic stem cell research, it has the ability to influence it by setting limits on how the Bethesda, Md.-based National Institutes of Health can award grant money. In August 2001, President Bush issued a rule limiting federally funded embryonic stem cell research to 64 (now 72) stem cell lines identified by the administration as viable.

Many scientists were upset by the decision, stating over and over on Capitol Hill that government attempts to control research could mean missed opportunities to develop breakthrough medicines, diagnostics and vaccines to treat Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, heart attacks, various cancers and many other genetic diseases.

Therefore, a few states began looking into enticing the science community by billing themselves as friendly to such research.

And in New Jersey, the governor's decision on stem cell research has prompted comment from both sides.

Indeed, Debbie Hart, president of the Biotechnology Council of New Jersey Inc. in Trenton, told BioWorld Today: "It's been a long, hard road, and a lot of people used lots of political courage and leadership to make this happen. We think [the legislation] takes a logical, responsible approach to all the critical considerations surrounding this move and still allows and encourages this important area of research. We are thrilled that New Jersey continues to be a leader in life sciences research."

Others, such as the Family Research Council, of Washington, issued prepared statements criticizing the legislation, saying it "tramples on the sanctity of life."

A prepared statement issued by McGreevey's office said the legislation requires physicians treating patients for infertility to provide them with adequate information to make an informed and voluntary choice regarding the use of human embryos following infertility treatment.