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Stem cell bill gains


Two House of Delegates committees approved a stem cell research bill yesterday that was expanded to include adult as well as embryonic cells and to provide a role in administering grants for a state technology group favored by the governor.

The bill is the latest effort to find common ground on a proposal to use state money to support the science. House lawmakers are hoping the Senate will ultimately back their plan, putting pressure on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who has said he supports using state money for stem cell research but argues that legislation is not necessary.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said he expects the bill to be introduced Monday evening for debate. The House Health and Government Operations and Appropriations committees voted 14-10 and 19-7, respectively, for the bills.

"I think the governor will be supportive of this ultimately," Busch said. "It takes into consideration that [the Maryland Technology Development Corp.] is utilized. It also creates an opportunity for adult stem cell research to be included."

Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman, said the governor believes that his plan, which would have the technology group evaluate proposals but doesn't require legislative oversight, is superior. In addition to the $20 million for research, it includes $13.5 million for a new center for regenerative medicine in Baltimore.

Fawell wouldn't comment on whether the governor would support the House's latest effort to meet him halfway. "The governor reserves final judgment on all legislation until it reaches his desk," Fawell said.

The House proposal - which would provide $25 million a year for research - would create two committees. One would include experts from outside Maryland, to evaluate and proposals; a second Maryland-based commission would select the recipients.

Embryonic stem cell research proposals would be favored, but all types of projects would be eligible for funding. The technology group would determine how the money would be disseminated.

Del. Gareth E. Murray, a Montgomery County Democrat who sits on the Health and Government Operations Committee, voted for the bill yesterday, saying that embryonic stem cell research - which many scientists believe could help cure a number of debilitating diseases - is worth pursuing even if cures aren't guaranteed.

"Adult stem research didn't start with success," Murray said. "There's a process. ... Initially, you are grappling with how to make something happen."

Embryonic stem cell research is more of an issue than adult stem cell research because it uses cells from human embryos. For that reason, some believe that the science is akin to abortion. But because the cells have the ability, many scientists believe, to replicate many different kinds of cells, they are seen as a hope for treating diseases such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's.

"The proponents have made a lot of claims, but there's scant evidence at this point" to support embryonic research, said Del. William J. Frank, a Baltimore County Republican who opposed the bill yesterday in the health committee.

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