Click Spinal Cord for
Spitzer's call for
$2B in stem cell funding anchors plan to transform economy
Di Scipio said he and other advocates of spinal cord injury victims are excited and energized by the prospect of having Gov. Eliot Spitzer, an embryonic stem cell research supporter, in office in New York.
"Many, many--if not most--researchers believe this type of research can heal and end the suffering of people," he said. "I believe that something like this can help me."
Spitzer has put Lt. Gov. David Paterson in charge of promoting a 10-year stem cell and biomedical research funding initiative in the Legislature, and of getting voters to approve a $2 billion bond act in November 2007 to pay for it.
Spitzer said in his State of the State speech Jan. 3 that the research money will be one of the chief initiatives to advance what he called an "Innovation Economy."
"This investment will repay itself many times over in increased jobs, economic activity and improved health," Spitzer said.
In his Jan. 3 speech, Spitzer said other steps were necessary to outfit the state to adopt an Innovation Economy, which he defined as "the knowledge-based economy of new business and new ideas that has become the driving force of job creation in the world today."
He said his $6 billion property tax cut for middle- and lower-income New Yorkers would make it more affordable to live in New York. Spitzer also promised workers' compensation to reduce a major cost of doing business in New York and improvements to energy laws to get more clean, reliable electricity into the state's electricity mix.
'Credibility is at stake'
"Gov. Spitzer will help push the boundaries of medical knowledge while putting New Yorkers back to work," Paterson said.
Paterson places the direct and indirect economic impact of the biotech and pharmaceutical industries in New York at more than $18 billion, with opportunities growing.
"We are at a point that the scientific credibility is at stake in biomedical research," said Robert Palazzo, acting provost at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the founding director of the school's Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. "That is going to impact economic development and our development of the biotechnology sector."
While research on adult stem cells is being conducted, Palazzo said scientists internationally have come to regard embryonic stem cell research as holding the most promise to regenerate cells damaged by injury or diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and diabetes, Palazzo said.
James Fossett, an analyst at the State University of New York's Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, said it is not too late for a huge investment by New York to make a big difference on the stem cell and biotech landscape. New Jersey and Connecticut have just created research funding streams and California voters in 2004 authorized spending $3 billion on embryonic research over 10 years. That money was long tied up in litigation.
Despite the Democratic gains in Congress in the 2006 election, Fossett said the votes do not appear to be there to override Bush vetoes of future stem cell expansion bills. That will keep the spotlight on state funding efforts in the meantime, he said.
The Republican-controlled state Senate has been noncommital on whether it would go along with a bill that funded embryonic stem cell research while former Gov. George Pataki promoted non-embryonic research on stem cells from umbilical cords. The state Catholic Conference, which represents Roman Catholic bishops in Albany, is against embryonic stem cell research.
Di Scipio said he hopes embryonic stem cell research will be one of those issues that the Senate reverses itself on. It has done so in recent years on other bills, most recently on legislation to require mental health coverage in insurance policies in New York
Robin Elliott, head of New Yorkers for the Advancement of Medical Research, said Senate Republicans may find they don't have any other choice on the issue.
"They have a dwindling majority and it would be increasingly hard for the leadership and individual senators to buck public opinion on this issue," Elliott said.
State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, who was formally voted by the full Senate to a seventh term as majority leader on Jan. 3, has a Republican majority with a slender 34-28 advantage over Democrats. It could fall to 33-29 if Republicans are unable to hold onto a Long Island seat that will soon be vacated by Sen. Michael Balboni, who has taken the top law enforcement seat in Spitzer's cabinet.
A poll commissioned by NYAMR in 2006 showed support of state funding for regenerative medicine, including embryonic stem cell research, running in the 70 percent range among New York voters.
A $2 billion investment in stem cell and biotech research will have a "tremendous" impact on revitalizing "one of the very best infrastructures of scientific and medical research in the country," Elliott said.
"[Rensselaer President] Shirley Jackson has been a leader in this and has personally, in my presence, asked the Republican leadership in the Senate to move on this issue," Elliott said. "She is very articulate, eloquent, on it."
Both Jackson and James Barba, CEO of Albany Med, have pushed for embryonic stem cell money under the NYAMR's banner.
Di Scipio, 36, is a former Albany County corrections officer who lives in Schenectady. He broke two vertebrae and injured his spinal cord in 1999, when he dove into the shallow end of a pool at his home.
A paraplegic, Garry Wood of Latham, said stem cell research offers the best hope he has seen for a way to reverse the debilitating effects of catastrophic injuries. He was paralyzed in a 1978 motorcycle accident.
Wood said any ambitious state investment in research under Spitzer has to be focused on results.
"I have heard, 'It will take another 10 years of research' too many times," Wood said. "Any program Mr. Spitzer authorizes should be results-oriented and incentive-based to reward those who are making real progress and contributing to the field of research."
Spitzer said he would ban human reproductive cloning as part of any embryonic stem cell research funding program.
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