Yesterday's U.S. elections brought mixed news for scientists interested in stem cell research. California voters approved a $3 billion plan to make the state a mecca for stem cell research, but the reelection of President George W. Bush and the addition of several conservative lawmakers to the United States Senate dampened some researchers' hopes of easing restrictions on federal funding of stem cell studies.
By a 59% to 41% margin, California voters approved Proposition 71, which calls for pumping $3 billion over the next 10 years into stem cell studies. The measure was backed by a $4 million campaign launched by a coalition of Noble laureates, Hollywood stars, and research and business groups. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) signed on a few weeks before the election.
"It's been a long road," says stem cell researcher Lawrence Goldstein of the University of California, San Diego. "A great team of people was assembled, and together that group made history." Jubilant supporters hope that the new California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, to be modeled on the federal National Institutes of Health and have an annual budget of $295 million, will be up and running within the next 3 months.
The opposition spent less than $400,000. Some critics opposed any research involving embryos, while others criticized the plan as "welfare for biotech." Some women's groups worry that women will be exploited for their eggs.
In the presidential race, stem cell research advocates were disappointed by the defeat of Senator John Kerry (D-MA), who promised to ease the Bush Administration's restrictions on the number of cell lines available to federally funded researchers. And some are concerned about the impact on the debate of four newly elected senators who support banning all forms of human cloning. The Senate has so far blocked passage of the bill, which stem cell researcher Sidney Altman of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, calls "a terrible precedent that would rule illegal some forms of basic research."
In other poll results, voters reelected Congress's two physicists, Representatives Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Rush Holt (D-NJ), as well as Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), chair of the House Science Committee.