Although the debate surrounding stem-cell research is still raging nationwide, state governments and universities are finally waking up to the promise these cells hold. Stem cells, both embryonic and adult, have tremendous potential for researchers hoping to understand and treat diseases from Parkinson’s to cancer. In this spirit, the University announced the development of a Center for Stem Cell Biology earlier this month. The new center will open with an annual budget of more than $10 million and is an encouraging step for the University and the state. However, this center alone will not be enough.

Angela Cesere

As states like California and New Jersey undertake initiatives to fund stem-cell research, Michigan holds on to some of the strictest restrictions in the country. Without state support, the center will not be able to reverse the research-level brain drain plaguing Michigan. Gov. Jennifer Granholm claims to be intent on making Michigan a leader in biotechnology, but legal restrictions and a lack of state financial support will cost the state vital jobs, and the University will continue struggling to compete in this budding field.

The University should be applauded for its work to promote scientific research and the economic well being of the state. Stem-cell research is an important component of the fast-growing biotechnology sector and can bring high-tech jobs to the state. Biotechnology will play a key role in diversifying and revitalizing Michigan’s sluggish economy. The full potential of stem cells, however, will not be realized so long as the state refuses to reform its restrictions on stem-cell research, which prohibit the use of embryos leftover from in-vitro fertilization that would otherwise be discarded.

With the state struggling to retain top minds and create high-tech jobs, it is vital that this new center be the start of a larger movement to make Michigan a leader in stem-cell research. The center will be important in attracting and holding on to top researchers and keeping the issue of stem cells in the public eye. Other states are beginning to support stem-cell research, and it is in Michigan’s best interest to follow suit by immediately relaxing its restrictions that inhibit biotechnological innovation.

The center represents the University’s commitment to staying on the cutting edge of scientific research even in the face of strict state restrictions and may slow the rate of brain drain from the state. But given the enormous potential of stem-cell research, the center’s $10-million budget is hardly enough, especially compared with the $3-billion bond initiative Californians passed last year to fund stem-cell research. While Granholm and the state Legislatures stall on reforming the state’s obstructive stem-cell laws, Michigan will not be able to take advantage of the economic and scientific benefits that this area of research can bring. For now, the center will be welcomed to the University with open arms, carrying with it the expectations that support will continue to grow here and throughout the state.

 

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