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Massachusetts governor to push $1 billion investment on stem-cell, other research

BOSTON (AP) – Massachusetts’ governor, eager to attract more biotechnology business, on Tuesday proposed that the state make a $1 billion (euro740 million) investment in the industry to challenge California as a hub of stem-cell research in the United States.

Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal, revealed in a speech to scientists and biotech companies at the BIO International Convention in Boston, is a 10-year initiative. Money would be spent on research grants to scientists and to improve public college facilities that both public and private researchers would use, he said.

The initiative also calls for the creation of a stem cell bank, a centralized repository of stem cell lines for public and private research. Patrick said the bank would be the first of its kind in the nation.

”There is no place in the world with as much talent in life sciences and biotech as here in Massachusetts. Now is the time for us to invest in that talent and bring together the resources of our unparalleled researched universities, teaching hospitals and industry to work toward a common goal, to grow ideas into products, to create cures and jobs,” Patrick said in a news release.

The proposal would require legislative approval. Both House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and Senate President Therese Murray voted in favor of a 2005 bill encouraging stem cell research.

The proposal comes at a time when the University of Massachusetts is basking in the glow of a Nobel Prize. Craig Mello, of the UMass Medical School in Worcester, shared the Nobel Prize in medicine last October for discovering a way to silence specific genes, a revolutionary finding that scientists are scrambling to harness for fighting illnesses as diverse as cancer, heart disease and AIDS.

California voters in 2004 approved the nation’s most ambitious stem cell research center. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is authorized to dole out $3 billion (euro2.21 billion) in research grants over 10 years.

The research aims to use stem cells, which are created in the first days after conception and can give rise to all the organs and tissues in the body, to replace diseased tissue in hopes of treating a variety of diseases, from Alzheimer’s to diabetes.

But many social conservatives, including President George W. Bush, oppose the work because embryos are destroyed in the process. The microscopic embryos are usually donated by fertility clinics.

The Bush administration has limited federal funding to about $25 million (euro18.44 million) annually.

Four other states also have skirted federal restrictions with stem cell research funding schemes of their own: Connecticut has a 10-year, $100 million (euro73.8 million) initiative; Illinois spent $10 million (euro7.38 million) last year; Maryland has approved a $15 million (euro11.06 million) budget; and New Jersey has spent about $25 million (euro18.44 million) in two years.

Patrick has pushed to reverse stem cell research restrictions imposed by his predecessor, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

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