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Stem cell research trial hinges on proper implementation

By Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News Service

February 27, 2006

HAYWARD (BCN) -- Attorneys clashed today over the constitutionality of California's $3 billion voter-approved stem cell research program.

In opening statements in a non-jury trial in Alameda County Superior Court, attorneys for taxpayer organizations and a bioethics group alleged that the lack of direct state control over the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine's finances violates the state constitution.

But state Deputy Attorney General Tamar Pachter, who is defending the institution, said Proposition 71, which was approved by 59 percent of California voters who went to the polls in November 2004, is being implemented in accordance with the state constitution and state statutes.

Pachter accused the attorneys who are trying to block the initiative of engaging in "a tortured interpretation of the constitution" and said "control mechanisms are working as intended" to ensure that the program is operating as intended.

Proposition 71 calls for allocating $300 million a year in research grants for 10 years.

It created the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, which is based in San Francisco, and its 29-member governing body, the Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee.

Robert Klein, a Palo Alto real estate developer who spearheaded the ballot drive, chairs the committee.

No grant money has been handed out so far because of legal challenges by the People's Advocate and National Tax Limitation Foundation and the California Family Bioethics Council.

The suits have been consolidated into a single trial before Judge Bonnie Sabraw, who has set aside two weeks for the case. But trial participants say it appears that very few witnesses will be called and that the case may conclude later this week.

Backers put Proposition 71 on the ballot as a response to the Bush Administration's decision to cap federal funding for stem cell research at about $25 million annually and impose strict research guidelines that scientists say limit advances.

President Bush and many other social conservatives oppose some stem cell programs because human embryos are destroyed during research.

Supporters of embryonic stem cell research say embryonic stem cells promise more versatility than adult stem cells and could help people with spinal cord injuries and diseases that include childhood diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Five people in wheelchairs attended the opening statements today, as did family members of people with various disabilities and illnesses.

David Llewellyn, the attorney for the California Family Bioethics Council, told reporters during a break in the trial today that the groups who are fighting Proposition 71 in court support adult stem cell research, and that embryonic stem cell research has been unsuccessful.

He said, "It's a shame that this immense amount of money can't be spent for a certain return."

In court, Llewellyn told Sabraw that at a meeting last September, Ed Penhoet, CIRM's vice chair, illustrated the uncertainty of the program's financial payoff by stating that it's impossible to know the value of technology that hasn't been invented yet.

Llewellyn also alleged that many oversight committee members have conflicts of interest because they have investments in biotech companies that aim to profit from stem cell research or are affiliated with universities and other facilities that hope to get funding for such research.

But Pachter said committee members are "a talented, dedicated group of people who are not on it for personal or institutional gain."

Pachter said "members are experts in fields that are critical to
the mission" of the stem cell program.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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