This article incorrectly stated that Michael Clarke was an LSI faculty member. Clarke was a professor of internal medicine at the University’s medical school before he left for Stanford University. The correction has been appended.

Sarah Royce

From its elevated roost atop a hill, the University’s Life Sciences Institute casts an intimidating shadow over Palmer Field. In its midst, students sled on “borrowed” lunch trays and sculpt human anatomy into the snow, believing the institution above is engaging in the bleeding edge of biomedical research. But state law proves their assumptions naive: By prohibiting Michigan researchers from creating new stem-cell lines, the state has caused the University to fall far behind in potentially life-saving stem-cell research.

Due to the state’s laws – which are some of the most restrictive in the country – stem-cell research at the University is sharply limited. Regulations only permit the use of adult stem cells, the few federally approved stem-cell lines and embryonic stem cells produced out of state. Given that adult stem cells aren’t nearly as scientifically promising as embryonic ones and federally backed lines now appear to be contaminated, these restrictions are rendering the University less able to effectively compete in this rapidly developing field.

Perhaps most frustratingly, Michigan’s restrictions are causing the University to lose top researchers and scientists to out-of-state institutions that enjoy more supportive state laws. Researcher Michael Clarke, formerly a professor of internal medicine at the University’s medical school, left the University last year in favor of Stanford, located in the most stem-cell-friendly state in the country: California. Better funded and freer in their research pursuits, state universities in New Jersey, Wisconsin and Illinois could leave Michigan behind unless more is done to keep the University competitive.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm recently asserted her willingness to lift the state’s ban on creating new embryonic stem-cell lines in her State of the State address. State Rep. Andy Meisner (D-Ferndale) is currently pushing two bills that would lift the ban. Unfortunately, the prospects of these bills passing are dim in the Republican-dominated state Legislature. Republicans must recognize the many benefits embryonic stem-cell research will provide and set aside their purely ideological reservations.

From paralysis to Parkinson’s disease, stem-cell research could very well lead to a cure for degenerative diseases that medicine is currently unable to treat. Philosophical pro-life objections make little sense in this debate because the stem cells in question typically are surplus from fertility clinics and would otherwise be destroyed.

University President Mary Sue Coleman, as the face of the state’s leading research university, must show more active leadership to ensure the future of stem-cell research in Michigan. As a biochemist herself, Coleman could be vital in convincing state legislators of the importance of this research. Coleman should follow the lead of her vice president for medical affairs, Robert Kelch, who has said the state’s strict stem-cell laws are inconsistent with its goal of developing the life sciences. Michigan cannot afford to lose more researchers to other states because of outdated, restrictive laws.

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