In December, one of Maryland's own biotech firms -- Osiris Therapeutics of Baltimore -- announced a landmark discovery of its own: Adult bone marrow stem cells do not provoke the kind of immune reaction between individuals (or species) that virtually all embryonic stem cells do, making them a superior option for bioengineering cartilage, bone and blood tissue for transplants. Earlier this month, Australian scientists reported success in regenerating an entire milk-producing mammary gland from adult stem cells taken from the breast tissue of a mouse.
Despite the fact that adult stem cells can be easily harvested with no ethical ramifications, Ehrlich plans to let the Maryland Technology Development Corporation determine how the $20 million in state funding should be spent. This is a cop-out. Elected officials should be making these decisions, not groups that stand to profit from them. As Neil Munro pointed out in a 2001 National Journal article, there are often hidden financial links between researchers at public institutions and the private companies that patent their discoveries. At the very least, Maryland taxpayers deserve a fair return on their investment whenever future cures are found.
Two decades of federally funded fetal stem cell research failed to produce a single unqualified therapeutic success, while adult stem cells are currently being used to treat thousands of patients without crossing any moral boundaries, so it's pretty clear where any additional funding should go. Last session, the Maryland General Assembly's only physician, Senate Minority Whip Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County, opposed funding embryonic research on those grounds.
Ehrlich should summon the political and moral courage to do the same.
Maybe the legislators in New Jersey (the only state so far to actually give state money for stem cell work)should take note.