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Stem-cell advocates want vote on funds for research

Sat, Apr. 17, 2004
Lisa M. Krieger
Mercury News

More than 1 million Californians have signed petitions to support a $3 billion bond measure that would put the state in the business of doing stem-cell research, making it likely that the measure will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot.

If the effort succeeds, California would be the only state in the nation to fund embryonic stem-cell research, positioning it as a leader in the field.

American research in the field has been hampered by federal restrictions, although other nations have moved forward.

The measure, organized by the Los Angeles-based Californians for Stem Cell Research and Cures, needed about 600,000 signatures; instead, it got nearly twice as many.

``Families of sick people were the driving force behind putting this measure on the ballot,'' said Fiona Hutton, spokeswoman for the organization. ``They gathered the signatures and funded it.''

One major funder of the initiative was Robert Klein of Palo Alto-based affordable housing developer Klein Financial, who contributed $500,000. He believes a treatment derived from stem cells is the best hope for a cure for his teenage son, who has juvenile diabetes.

Although the measure may face opposition because of the state's budget problems, its supporters say that over time, expanded research will contribute to the state economy.

The proposal would fund a new stem-cell research institute at one of the University of California campuses, as well as lab projects, through grants and loans, at other colleges.

Critics oppose the research because stem cells must be extracted from tiny pre-embryos, which are then destroyed.

Because stem cells mature into many different types of healthy tissue, they are seen as a potential cure not only for juvenile diabetes but also spinal paralysis, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis and other devastating disabilities and diseases.

Copyright © 2004, Mercury News