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Stem cell bill sits on governor's desk

SPRINGFIELD - Legislation sent to the governor's desk Thursday would encourage research into stem cells, including those from human embryos. Senate Bill 4, which passed the House, 70-44, would set up an institute to distribute research grants. It also would prohibit reproductive cloning. Although scientists are already studying embryonic and other stem cells in Illinois, the legislation would create a positive atmosphere for it, said its House sponsor, Rep. Tom Cross, R-Oswego. "It shows to the research community that Illinois accepts stem cell research, and you could stay here and not have any fear of what you're doing," said Cross, the House Republican leader. "And, hopefully, we'll attract people." In asking his colleagues to support the bill, Cross choked back tears while relating his wife's dedication to helping their 14-year-daughter battle her chronic illness. "We have a daughter with diabetes, and that's one of the diseases we feel there's some promise with stem cell research," he said afterward. "For our daughter, it's a personal thing, but for so many other people, so many other diseases, there's a lot of promise." Attempts to pass similar legislation have failed over the past several years. Many opponents believe embryonic stem cell research destroys human life. Some prefer research focused on adult stem cells or those contained in amniotic fluid. Many researchers favor embryonic stem cells, believing the cells could be manipulated to replace any kind of diseased or damaged tissue. "Taking these undifferentiated cells and being able to initiate them into either heart tissue or pancreatic tissue or muscle tissue ... can help the quality of life of children," said Rep. David Miller, D-Lynwood. Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston, sponsored the legislation in the Senate. He, Cross and others hope to include at least $25 million in the final state budget to fund research grants and set up the mechanism to distribute them, he said."There are millions of people across the country, young and old, that suffer from diseases or medical conditions where a cure can be discovered or their lives can be improved as a result of expanded stem cell research," Schoenberg said after the vote. The bill would establish the Illinois Institute for Regenerative Medicine to distribute the grants. It also would set up procedures for the institute to follow in determining who gets funding. Cross said he hopes that structure will safeguard against potential abuses in how the money is allocated. The legislation also prohibits human reproductive cloning, Cross said. It does, however, permit transferring the nucleus of one cell to an unfertilized egg with the nucleus removed. Some opponents say that procedure, known as somatic nuclear transplantation, is tantamount to cloning. The Senate approved SB4 in February. It now goes to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who has supported and set aside funds for stem cell research in previous years through executive orders and other means. "We expect the governor to sign the bill," Schoenberg said. A spokeswoman for the governor did not return a telephone message. Dana Heupel can be reached at 217-788-1518 or dana.heupel(at)sj-r.com. REEDM-CNS-SD-05-31-07 1816PST

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