WisBusiness: Baldwin Pushes for Change in Federal Stem-Cell Policy

By Joanne Haas

President Bush is about to get a nudge from Democratic U.S Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Madison to rethink the administration’s policy of restricting federal research funding toward work on embryonic stem cell lines derived before 9 p.m. on August 9, 2001.

“Clearly this policy needs re-examining and is not working,” Baldwin said during a meeting with reporters after touring WiCell Research Institute on the far West side of Madison.

Baldwin’s visit came on the heels of last week’s reports that 16 of the 78 approved stem cell colonies have either died or failed in their lab dishes. “So an already restricted resource for scientists has become further restricted,” she said. “I opposed this policy when it was implemented and I continue to oppose it today.”

The Democrat is gathering signatures for a letter to the president asking for an expansion of the federal policy to allow more funding for embryonic stem cell research.

“There is just too much at stake,” she said.

Also appearing before reporters was the usual media-shy James Thomson, the UW researcher who in 1998 became the first scientist to isolate and grow embryonic stem cells for research to find cures or effective treatments for diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson’s. Thomson said without federal funding, research has slowed but work continues.

When asked about the Bush administration’s siding with those who oppose the use of embryonic stem cells in research, Thomson reiterated the
embryos used in such research are those targeted to be discarded. Baldwin was joined on her tour by Michael Manganiello, vice president of governmental relations for the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, who said Bush’s stance “responds to his base and they are very influential in this White House.” Manganiello credited Thomson for letting a scientific genie out of the bottle that should be limited by policies when considering the enormous medical advances at hand. He also publicly thanked U.S. Health Secretary Tommy Thompson for his support, but didn’t know if there was anything more he could do about the federal policy.

Manganiello also noted Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, has said he would change the federal research funding restrictions as one of his first acts.

WiCell is a nonprofit laboratory that performs stem cell research, and holds the license to distribute such cells from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation — the UW licensing arm.